As the smell of barbecue saturated the air, the soft thumping of corn hole bags finding their wooden marks was drowned out by blaring sirens and flashing police lights.
First responders joined residents to enjoy refreshments, play games and socialize Tuesday afternoon in Buckley Park. The event was a part of the National Night Out, an evening dedicated to building community relations between first responders and the public.
Representatives from the Durango Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Department of Transportation and the Durango Fire Protection District set up informational booths, offered equipment tours, and fielded questions, all in an effort to connect with residents.
“(National Night Out) is a way to connect with the community at a different level. (Usually) when people see us, it's because it's a need from us or we're making like a traffic stop or something like that,” Will Sweetwood, community relations sergeant with Durango police, said. “(National Night Out) gives people a chance to come down (to) meet us. Even though we're in uniform, we're still people just like them.”
Sweetwood was responsible for much of the work planning this year’s event. While Durango has held Night Out events in the past, Sweetwood said this year’s event was the biggest they have ever put on.
Event attendees were offered tours of DFPD’s truck, CDOT’s dump truck and DPD’s command unit, which is a retrofitted RV equipped with Wi-Fi and other resources necessary to facilitate a law enforcement response from remote or longer-distance calls.
Some of the most excited participants were youths, a factor that attracted many locals like Hannah Scarpella who brought her 5-year-old son to the event.
“ (He) is determined to be a police officer when he grows up,” Scarpella said. “His uncle is a SWAT cop in Baltimore and he just loves police.”
The occasion provided Scarpella’s son and dozens of other children the opportunity to learn about fields they may be interested in, as well as getting up close and personal with the people who do the jobs and the equipment they use.
“It also lets him see what the field he's interested entails,” said Scarpella. “He is five and a half now, but he's had the dream for three years. So he's committed.”
The event also had food and refreshments prepared by the Durango Rotary Club, foam dinosaur building sets brought by the Powerhouse, as well as informational booths from the City of Durango and the Durango 100 Club. The Durango 100 Club gathers donations and distributes funds to the families of first responders who are injured or die in the field.
One of the main goals of National Night Out is to remind the public that first responders are people too and many of them have families and loved ones who worry about them, Sweetwood said.
“The more you can show your face in the community (and) be a positive leader, the more people can warm up to you and not be so scared of a police officer. They're not bad people. They just have a big job,” Scarpella said. “And sometimes the job is really hard and we don't understand. So I think this is great because they're just showing that they're actually humans, because they can have fun and be friendly. They're not always writing tickets.”