Cops, kids and communities
Children climbed aboard helicopters, learned how to dress a wound, splashed below the Tower One fire engine and enjoyed mingling with law enforcement and public safety personnel during the 17th annual Kids & Cops event on Friday at Charles R. Summey II Park.
The Forest City Police Department partnered with several area public safety departments and agencies to pack the park with emergency vehicles, safety information booths and fun-filled activities for children and families.
"This is a good opportunity for us to get out here and interact with kids and allow them to see that we don't just show up in times of trouble," said Forest City Sgt. Brad Moore. "Kids see they can approach us if they need anything."
Moore spent a portion of the afternoon interacting with kids by showing them various weapons used by law enforcement officers in the field, including a sniper rifle, shot gun and grenade launcher.
Law enforcement officers from other area public safety departments were also in attendance, including those as near as Rutherfordton and as far as Mount Holly, handing out informational materials as well as swag such as whistles, key chains, coloring books and badge stickers. Participating police departments included Black Mountain, Hickory, Spindale, Lincolnton and Lake Lure, which brought along its Lake Operations Police boat for children to view.
Kids also met deputies, troopers and personnel with the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office, North Carolina Highway Patrol (NCHP), North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina Forest Service and North Carolina State Parks. Children even got to tour the BATMobile, a mobile breath-alcohol testing unit used to increase the efficiency of on-site DWI processing.
"This is truly a great day for kids and the public service community to get together," said Sheriff Chris Francis. "The kids are able to communicate with law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and other public safety to learn more about their jobs in serving the community."
Officers with the Sheriff's Office G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) Program made their first Kids & Cops appearance this year, speaking with kids about preventing youth violence and developing good relationships between criminal justice professionals.
"We are building those positive relationships with kids today to let them know we are here to help them out, not just out to arrest them," said Robert Martin, a G.R.E.A.T. officer.
"It's been really great because we've seen a lot of kids from our program we do in the schools," added fellow G.R.E.A.T. officer Eric Hester. "The kids have been bringing up their parents and introducing them to us."
NCHP Trooper Jason Spence said the event provides a fun atmosphere for kids and makes law enforcement officers more approachable.
"Our goal is to build a partnership and an understanding not only with kids, but also with parents and grandparents to promote education and safety and be seen by youth as friendly, caring and responsible law enforcement officers," Spence said. "We are teaching kids not to be intimidated by officers and educating parents on a large range of topics, from car seats to motor vehicle safety. It's an overall good opportunity to see kids in a non-enforcement, non-confrontational situation."
Throughout the afternoon children had the opportunity to view numerous law enforcement vehicles from boats and SWAT vehicles to the Regional One helicopter out of Spartanburg, MAMA-1 (Mountain Area Medical Lift) helicopter from Asheville, Skywalker helicopter from the Sheriff's Office and a helicopter with the N.C. Forest Service out of Hickory.
"Skywalker is another tool for the Sheriff's Office to assist other agencies around the county," said Randy Patterson, who has piloted the helicopter since 1996. "We do things like drug eradication, search for missing persons and fugitives and even assist animal control by flying over pastures."
Patterson said in 1995, elementary school children were tasked with naming the helicopter, which is how it got the name Skywalker.
Fire trucks also lined the streets, traveling from Rutherfordton, Spindale, Lake Lure, Green Hill, Cliffside, Ellenboro, Sandy Mush and as close as Forest City. Of particular interest to kids were the EMS vehicles and ambulances that provided first aid information and CPR demonstrations, including Rutherford County EMS, Rutherford County Rescue, Hickory Nut Gorge EMS and Polk County EMS.
The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, Rutherford County Communications Center, United Way and Marine Corps League were among the myriad of booths and activities at the event.
Kids also crowded around the air gun range sponsored by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and also a tent run by Rutherford Regional Hospital giving kids fake injuries and teaching them how to treat wounds.
Highlights of the afternoon providing kids the chance to play with water included the dunk-an-officer booth and the tall streams of water cascading from the Tower One fire engine.
In between the tours of ambulances, pictures among the fire trucks and splashes in the water, the event provided an opportunity for children to learn about the different departments that protect their neighborhoods and to interact with those responsible for providing public safety for the community.
"Kids & Cops is always a good experience for the youth, parents and public safety in our community," said Forest City Police Chief Jay Jackson.