A Night Out with the cops: Oak Harbor event draws throng

The police threw a party and families came in droves Tuesday, on a warm summer evening at Windjammer Park.

The unique crime and drug prevention event is called "National Night Out," and is held annually in every U.S. state.

It has the feel of festival with kids in face paint while adults peruse colorful booths and food stands. The difference is the children are also crawling through Humvees, trying on SWAT vests and operating robots used for bomb disposal.

Along with a fun-filled evening, Petty Officer 1st class Raymond Manibusan says the event demystifies security and law enforcement.

"When people meet us in camo, they can see that we're approachable. If kids are on base they can come to us with confidence and know we won't scare them," Manibusan said.

The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Security Department brought patrol units and training handcuffs, along with other tools for public display.

Second Class Petty Officer Cody Abernathy volunteers to wear the "red man suit" for the security department each year. And he spends hours getting beat up.

"The suit is used for training by military and police," Abernathy said, adding that the suit was padded. "It helps protect us from people who would try to take our weapons."

The kids used Styrofoam batons to simulate the batons used by security.

"It doesn't hurt as long as they hit the padding. Otherwise it stings a little," Abernathy said.

Other highlights from the event included the NAS Whidbey Island's Search and Rescue team demonstrating an in-flight helicopter rescue and a climbing wall sponsored by the base's Morale, Welfare and Recreation office.

Kids were also mesmerized by Pluggy the Fire Hydrant, a remote control operated robot that can talk, move and blink.

The $5,000 bot was operated by fire inspector Alan Sprouse. He said Pluggy teaches fire prevention, and the two-way speaker allows him to hear and respond to people.

"We get young kids who love him and some kids and adults are a little afraid. If that happens, we simply do this," Sprouse said, lowering the top of the hydrant over the robot's face and giving it the appearance of a normal fire hydrant.

Oak Harbor resident Mary Rose said this gathering of law enforcement and first responders each year makes her feel safer.

"A lot of times you have questions and you don't know where to go to get the answers. With everyone here, you can get the information you need," Rose said. "And you learn things to keep your home safe."

National Night Out was hosted by the Oak Harbor Police Department who also brought an interesting spread of equipment, including an armored car and crime scene tools.

With its size increasing each year, Police Chief Rick Wallace worries the event could move away from its original message; the public and agencies can work together to make the community safer.

"As long as people spend 10 to 15 minutes thinking about crime prevention and safety, we're happy," he said.

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