Most of the time, when people meet their local police officers, something stressful is happening, like an accident or a burglary.
So in planning Towson’s version of National Night Out, a nationwide event that brings officers together with the community they police, Towson Area Citizens on Patrol Vice President Pat France said she wanted the interaction to take place in a more positive context.
“This brings people together in a positive manner, so you find out that those guys behind the badge are actually human beings,” France said.
France is the primary organizer for the event, which starts at 6 p.m., Aug. 7 in front of the Historic Courthouse in Towson.
“It’ll just be a whole lot of fun,” France said.
Activities will include hula hoops, sidewalk chalk and a face painter for children. A fire truck, police motorcycle and a boat from the police department’s marine unit are also expected to be there.
France said what she is looking forward to most, however, is a tug-of-war between police officers and Towson residents. Hawaiian leis will be strung around the necks of the winning team, France said.
“Hopefully the police will be laughing and the people will be laughing,” France said.
Towson Precinct Capt. Jan Brown said National Night Out “brings home what we do all year.” Police rely on the community every day to provide tips and keep an eye on neighborhoods, he said.
“The community, they expect a lot, don’t get me wrong,” Brown said. “But it’s mutual. As much as they ask from us, we also want them to be our eyes and ears.”
Brown said community relations events like National Night Out especially benefit officers who are on the street every day, who may not be “accustomed to letting their guard down.”
“Fortunately, we meet the community a lot in person, but this is a bigger deal,” Brown said. “When you’re breaking bread with people, it’s a bigger deal. Who doesn’t like to eat?”
The event will include free refreshments, though “it’ll probably go fast,” said Wesley Wood, director of the Towson precinct’s Police Community Relations Council.
Parking will be free with validation at any Revenue Authority garage.
The event also will feature a ceremony honoring this year’s Officer of the Year, Robert Rayner Jr., Wood said.
Though Rayner has already received the award, Wood said the National Night Out event will be a chance for politicians, the officer’s family and the public to honor him.
Organizers are encouraging attendees to bring two or three items to donate to the Student Support Network, which supports homeless children in Baltimore County.
Founder Laurie Taylor Mitchell said the organization is seeking new and unopened toiletries, canned goods like fruit and soup, and gently used tennis shoes, sweatpants and sweatshirts. A full list can be found on the Towson Area Citizens On Patrol website.
The goods will help students at Loch Raven High School, Parkville High School and Pine Grove Middle School, Mitchell said.
Another Towson event, to celebrate the Cockeysville Precinct, will be held at St. Thomas’ Church on Providence Road, also at 6 p.m.
The Student Support Network will also have a table at St. Thomas’, Mitchell said.
St. Thomas’ operations manager Jill Dumser said the night will open with a Baltimore County Police Honor Guard tribute to fallen Baltimore County Police Ofc. Amy Caprio, who was killed while on duty last May in Perry Hall.
After that, Dumser said, the event will feature live music and a visit from Poe, the Baltimore Ravens mascot. Members of the Baltimore Blast will be there signing autographs, she said, and various craft vendors and educational workshops for children will be stationed around the event. Representatives from the Cockeysville Precinct and various other law enforcement entities will be there as well, Dumser said.
Dumser said that the ceremony and the festivities after will recognize what National Night Out is all about – “supporting law enforcement.”