LORAIN — Lorain residents young and old got the chance to see local law enforcement in a new light Tuesday, as part of the city’s National Night Out at Oakwood Park.
On the first Tuesday in August, the campaign invites police departments across the country to enhance their relationships with the communities they serve through events like block parties and barbecues. In Lorain, the event was a chance for departments to show off vehicles — and maybe some dancing skills — while answering questions and talking to residents.
Lorain police Officer Jake Morris stressed the importance of events like National Night Out as a chance for the community to get to know their law enforcement outside of emergency situations.
“Being a part of the community, being approachable and accountable to the community is important to us and just being in a situation like this where it’s such a positive event – everybody is here having a good time, being here having a good time with them,” he said, “I think its sends the right message to the community and it shows the community that we’re people too — that we like to laugh, we like to have fun, and that we are made up of the community.”
He said Lorain police always has had a substantial presence at the city’s Night Out, this year bringing out its mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, alongside other department vehicles, a LifeCare ambulance, cruisers and trucks for residents to look at, touch and ask questions about.
The MRAP, Morris said, was a hot topic for questions. To show why the department has the military-grade vehicle, he illustrates how the department uses it to rescue people during severe weather events.
“One of the greatest stories that I like to tell is we had about two years ago, just a massive rain storm and we had a flash flood,” Morris said. “Every street was flooded and there were some people who were a little bit older who were in (one) level houses that couldn’t get out of their houses. We actually were able to drive this vehicle right up to their door, get them out and get them to safety. We wouldn’t have been able to do that with a cruiser, we wouldn’t have been able to do that with almost anything. And when you’re talking 4-feet water, it becomes dangerous even for officers to walk that.”
And as other vehicles sank into the mud, he joked they may have to use the MRAP to get the other vehicles out.
Lorain Auxiliary officers Sgt. Steve Hernandez and Patrolwoman D Perez stood nearby with a cruiser, enjoying the event and dancing to Sugarhill Gang Apache’s “Jump On it,” to the delight of some of their coworkers and passersby.
“We came out here for Night Out Against Crime to show that police officers … were here to have fun, to show the community there’s another side of police than just the bad side,” Hernandez said. “We want to show the kids a good time.”
Hernandez, who has been with the department since 2010, said it was great for the number of departments to participate in the event, with Perez — newly hired in May — agreeing.
“I think it’s absolutely fabulous that we can all get together, all the different departments — we have SWAT, local (police), auxiliary — it shows the community, like he said, that we do care … and I can’t wait for next year, and hopefully this will be bigger and better next year,” she said.
Councilman Angel Arroyo, D-6th Ward, helped organize the event, promoting it widely on Facebook, and said the night was a chance to dispel myths not only about police, but the city.
“Lorain has a certain image that people feel that’s out here, and they’re totally wrong,” he said. “This is showing the community, the county, other surrounding neighborhoods that our community residents can get along with our law enforcement.”
For Arroyo, it was a chance for law enforcement to get to know their community as much as it was for residents to put a face to badge numbers.
“It’s also important for those that feel a certain type of way toward police or law enforcement that feel a certain type of way toward groups or certain neighborhoods, this is a way for them to work together,” he said. “… We’re doing everything that we can to get people to work with the law enforcement, build those relationships and also for the law enforcement to continue to work with our neighborhoods.”
Mitsy Melendez, of Lorain, agreed.
She brought her three children — including her 5-year-old daughter Sophia who wants to be a police officer — in part to have fun but also to show them they don’t have to be afraid of police.
“I think police just have a bad name sometimes, and it’s kind of nice to see that there’s a positive side to them, not just the bad stuff you hear out there,” she said.
Despite the rain, Arroyo participated in a community bike ride, joined by kids along the route and a couple of Park Rangers. The bike ride was to promote a new bike registration program through the Lorain Police Department, which kicked off Tuesday night.
Officers Morris and Reuben Figueroa head the program, with help from the Lorain Police Explorers. The Explorers are high school students learning about police training. The bike program invites residents to provide contact information to the department in the event that their bicycle is lost or stolen so it can be returned to them.
“We would have hundreds of bikes in the city garage just locked up waiting to get auctioned off, and the idea is really to try to reunite these people who worked hard to buy this bike – especially for their kids – we wanted them to have their bikes back,” Morris said.
Each registered bike gets a tamper-resistant barcode sticker, which can be scanned or called into dispatch by an officer when a bike is found. Morris said a lot of stolen bikes in the city are thefts of convenience, and are often recovered, but before the program it was difficult to match a missing bike to its rightful owner.
Morris said registration will be made available at other events throughout the city, and possibly at the high school.
“Even with the crazy weather we’ve had today, there are people coming up, taking advantage of our bicycle registration program … there are people coming up just wanting to have a conversation with officers and as a police officer it really kind of makes you feel proud and makes you feel grateful that we hae a community like that,” Morris said. “Because you can watch the news sometimes, you can watch social media and it can really bring you down sometimes as an officer. But to be here and see all the people who appreciate what we do just makes me want to try so much harder, just makes me want to be so much better the next day or even right now.”