One of the purposes behind holding a National Night Out event is to introduce the community to its law enforcement officers as people, “the human side of the badge,” said Mount Airy police Chief Doug Reitz.
This was just after doffing his uniform in favor of a grey T-shirt so that members of the community could dunk him into a tank of water Tuesday evening.
“Anything that brings your community closer to you is a worthwhile venture,” Reitz said, and more seriously: “A lot of times when people come into contact with us, they don’t see us in this kind of situation. It’s usually business. It’s the traffic stop where we are stopping them for speeding, or we get a call for a domestic dispute.”
The Mount Airy Police Department was formed too late in 2017 to participate in the annual Aug. 7 National Night Out events, which are celebrated around the country, so Reitz decided that 2018 would mark the first National Night Out organized by the new police force, and the first for the town.
“It started back in 1984,” he said. “It started out with 2.5 million people in, I think, 400 communities in 23 states, and now it’s grown to 38 million plus in 16,000 different communities all over the entire country. Mount Airy is now joining their ranks.”
By the time Reitz was climbing up on the dunk tank, around 6 p.m., dozens of people had fanned out among the buildings and vehicles on display — from fire engines to state police cruisers to military Humvees — at the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company carnival grounds. There were also inflatable bounce houses for children, carnival type food to order and a DJ.
“It’s awesome: I like to see all the agencies represented — not just Mount Airy but State and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office are here,” said Liza Richards, who attended the National Night Out event with her son Sean, 20, and daughter, Grace, 15.
“This being the first one, I think it’s a better turn than I expected,” Sean Richards said. “It’s got a good crowd so far.”
All three tried their hand at knocking the chief into the dunk tank.
“It does not get any better than that,” Liza Richards said. “It was for the Mount Airy Net. It’s our local food bank.”
There were a lot of fun, entertaining attractions Tuesday, but educational messages of public safety were there too.
Tucked into one of the buildings on the carnival grounds was a teenager’s bedroom — literally: bed with a lacrosse stick, TV and game system, dresser covered in soda cans.
This was the Threats in Plain Site, or TIPS program of the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office, making it’s National Night Out debut, according to State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo, who was on hand to give interested parents a tour of the mock-up bedroom designed to illustrate where teens might hide drugs.
“I always joke to the parents, this room is clean. If you have trouble finding stuff in this room, imagine in a real room where the kids have stuff everywhere,” DeLeonardo said. “This being the first Mount Airy National Night Out, we thought it would be a good opportunity to do this. A unique thing.”
The ingenuity of hiding places on display in the TIPS bedroom were surprising and disturbing to Larry and Shawn Harrison, an emergency room nurse and paramedic respectively.
“The Monster bottle unscrews and they can stuff stuff in it. The little vape thing — it looks like a flashlight. It’s daunting that kids can hide stuff in plain view and you don’t know,” Shawn Harrison said. “We talk to people all the time in the ER in EMS. Their kids are hiding stuff, and they didn’t realize it.”
The married couple from New Market were impressed with the event, unaware that it was a first for Mount Airy, and enjoying the turn out and TIPS presentation.
“We’re just trying new National Night Outs every year,” Larry Harrison said. “Local entertainment.”