TERRE HAUTE —
Fairbanks Park overflowed Tuesday with people rubbing elbows with all manner of emergency services personnel and public agencies.
The 2012 National Night Out appeared to be the largest yet, organizer Jason Brentlinger said as he surveyed the crowd.
Mayor Duke Bennett agreed with that assessment.
“We have another great turnout,” Bennett said. “Every year it gets bigger and better. Everybody loves to get free stuff. There’s free food and giveaways, and the weather is better than last year.”
Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt also agreed.
“It’s a good way for people to become more familiar with law enforcement in a more relaxed atmosphere,” Modesitt said.
A big draw for most people attending was the free school supplies. The vendors were encouraged to give out school supplies, said Brentlinger, a sergeant with the Terre Haute Police Department.
“We come every year,” said Billie Standford of Terre Haute as she and her family were leaving with bags of giveaway items and school supplies. “We come for school supplies, and some of the info you gather while we’re here, and the kids enjoy the activities.”
The youngsters also enjoy meeting police officers and others who keep the public safe and who help in times of need.
“I think it’s kind of neat how they [the police] interact with the kids,” Stanford said. “The beer goggles and basketball [game] was fun.”
Many young people took the challenge of wearing goggles that distorted vision while trying to make a basket in the “Think Don’t Drink” basketball goals set up by the Indiana State University Police Department. Members of ISU men’s basketball team encouraged participants for about an hour, and some players even took the challenge themselves.
“It is so difficult,” said 15-year-old Deshawn Rhodes after he tried shooting hoops. “The goggles are so dark, and it was lopsided. I couldn’t tell if I hit the backboard or not.”
ISU Police Chief Bill Mercier said his department has participated in National Night Out for the past four years, and the community connection is a good one to make.
“This is the first year the basketball team was here,” Mercier said, “and it was great to let the kids see how tall those guys really are.”
Eleven officers of the ISU bicycle patrol also rode their wheels to the park to talk to the public.
Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said his department handed out a lot of items in the first hour, and they were quickly running out of goodies to giveaway.
Balloons ruled the air for many of the kids, but so did the three helicopters that landed at the park.
Air Evac and LifeLine emergency medical helicopters both landed, with crews informing the public on their lifesaving missions. And a huge Blackhawk helicopter from the Army National Guard captured a lot of attention when it set down, and sent up a swirl of dry leaves and debris.
The THPD-organized event has consistently been ranked among the Top 10 National Night Out events in the nation for communities with populations from 50,000 to 100,000. More than 100 sponsors donated time, supplies and cash to the event.
National Night Out is a project of the National Association of Town Watch, an organization dedicated to the development and promotion of organized law enforcement-affiliated crime and drug prevention programs.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.