Families learn safety tips, interact with police and public safety at National Night Out in Aberdeen

The Aegis

Belcamp resident Kelly Burgos and her 11-year-old daughter, Haylie, attend National Night Out events in Harford County as often as they can, and each time they pick up new information about how they can be safe in their home.

At Tuesday’s Night Out event, held at the Target store in Aberdeen, they received information about how Haylie can be safe in other people’s homes. The mother and daughter talked with members of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

The chapter is promoting its Be Smart campaign to reach out to parents and educators about how they can protect children from being injured or killed by the unintentional discharge of a firearm.

“The key word is ‘unintentional’,” Rachel Pedersen, the local group lead for the Harford chapter of Moms Demand Action, said. “It’s not an accident because this is something that can be prevented.”

Pedersen, an Aberdeen resident, said parents can use common-sense methods such as asking if there is a gun in a home their child will visit and if it is secure. Visit http://besmartforkids.org for more information.

Her group was among the community organizations, volunteer fire companies and local and state law enforcement agencies that set up shop in the Target parking lot Tuesday evening.

The Havre de Grace Police Department hosted a separate National Night Out event in their city Tuesday evening. Havre de Grace officers and their colleagues in the Maryland Transportation Authority Police met with 25 to 30 people at the Somerset Manor community, which is operated by the Havre de Grace Housing Authority.

Police had their monthly meeting with Somerset Manor residents followed by “a time of fellowship” for Night Out, department spokesperson Cpl. Daniel Petz wrote in an email Wednesday.

“We have worked hard to build great relationships with our communities, and NNO is a small example of those successes!” Petz stated.

Visitors at the Aberdeen Target could interact with police officers and firefighters, investigators with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, plus check out family activities such as face painting, a dunking booth, music played by a DJ and free snacks. They could also visit food trucks set up in the lot. Target remained open during the event.

“We want to build a partnership with [law enforcement],” Pedersen said. “I mean, who doesn’t want to help prevent gun violence?”

Seventeen Target employees, wearing red uniform shirts, volunteered their time at the activity tables. Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, as well as members of his command staff, stopped by part way through the evening. The sheriff gave brief remarks and interacted with visitors.

“It’s pretty cool, they did a heck of a job out here,” said David Cummings, of Havre de Grace. “It’s a bigger turnout than I thought it would be.”

Cummings and his 2-year-old daughter, Abigail, checked out the different tables, while his fiancee, Target employee Sophia Turner, painted faces.

“They’re here for our help, and if you’re ever in trouble don’t ever hesitate to call to the police or ask an officer for help,” Cummings said when asked what he hopes his daughter would learn from Night Out.

Aberdeen resident Brenda Randall walked through the lot with her dog, K.D., a “chug,” or a chihuahua/pug mix. The dog is named K.D. in honor of NBA star Kevin Durant, since her son is a big fan of Durant’s basketball shoe brand, Randall said.

She attended her first National Night Out.

“It’s just a [good] opportunity for the community to meet the police officers here in the neighborhood,” Randall said.

Kelly Burgos talked with Bonita Buchanan, a Whiteford resident and Moms Demand Action member, while her daughter stood nearby, wearing a plastic firefighter’s helmet. Haylie is going into sixth grade at Aberdeen Middle School.

“It’s informative,” she said of the Be Smart campaign. “It makes you think of things you don’t normally think about asking.”

Burgos, who said she does not have a gun in her home, said she will now ask if there are firearms in friends’ houses, if her daughter spends the night there.

She said her daughter has learned multiple aspects of home safety in prior visits to Night Out, such as remaining calm and giving the dispatcher the correct information when calling 911, and how to get out of the house if there is a fire.

“She loves to help others, so this becomes very informative for her in [learning] what she can do to help,” Burgos said.

Police-community ties

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office had on-site its HOPE House trailer, which is designed to educate parents on the many places young people have been known to hide drugs. A second trailer was next door, where parents could get photo identification cards made for their children.

Burgos said she gets a new card for her daughter each time they attend Night Out.

The Sheriff’s Office had processed 53 cards toward the end of the event, which lasted at least three hours.

Parents keep the cards with them, and they can show it to a law enforcement officer if their child is missing. The card has information such as the child’s name, height, weight, eye color and hair color, according to Senior Deputy Ralph Ciambruschini, who is with the Sheriff’s Office community policing unit.

“It’s good for us to have that information right out of the gate,” Ciambruschini said.

The Sheriff’s Office was joined by Aberdeen Police Department, Aberdeen Fire Department, Bel Air Police Department, Maryland State Police and Fire Marshal’s Office. Visitors could check out police and fire vehicles, meet Fire Marshal’s Office dog Kachina and her handler, Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire, and pick up giveaway items such as cups and tote bags.

“It’s always good when you can get all of your law enforcement partners together, all of your public safety partners together and meet an array of people from Harford County; it’s a nice event,” Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert said.

Night Out is an opportunity for police officials to talk about what they do and to talk with residents about any issues they have, Trabert said.

Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore said the event is a chance for “good fellowship” with the community.

“We get to go out and show the community what the police are out here to do, to protect them and be part of the community,” Moore said. “We represent them; they’re part of us.”

Mirandah Murphy, 8, of Abingdon, was among the children who got to set off the siren on a Bel Air Police vehicle, startling her grandmother, Kathy Tripoli, of Havre de Grace.

“It was cool and awesome,” Mirandah, who is going into third grade at William Paca Elementary School, said. “I felt like a police [officer].”

Tripoli said Night Out is “really, really cool.”

“We need more of this,” she added.

People could also meet community groups such as Moms Demand Action, the gun safety organization and Maryland Chapter H of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, to learn about motorcycle safety. The local GWRRA chapter is called the Mason-Dixon Wings, as it draws riders from Baltimore, Cecil and Harford counties and southern Pennsylvania, according to a pamphlet.

Visitors could get yard signs, stickers and pamphlets promoting awareness of motorcycle riders and keeping them safe while on the road with motorists. Children could also get their photos taken while sitting on motorcycles.

“Hopefully, the people will be aware that we’re out here, just like regular people, and keep an eye out for us,” Mike Haslup, the chapter’s motorist awareness coordinator and an Abingdon resident, said.

Positive response

More than 200 people attended, according to an estimate by Lawrence Fenlock, the asset protection team leader for the Target store and the event coordinator. His team ensures safety and security for the building.

Attendees “responded very positively to all of the police officers, firefighters and community organizations that were in attendance,” he said.

“I couldn’t be prouder to work for Target because of nights like these,” Fenlock said.

The Aberdeen store staff worked with their colleagues at the Abingdon and Bel Air Targets to plan the event. National Night Out has been held at a different Target in Harford County each year in recent years.

“Target does want to continue to be the meeting place for National Night Out in Harford County,” Fenlock said.

avought@theaegis.com

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