DURYEA — Cecelia Marsola really wanted to pet the K-9 officer’s dog Saturday, Aug. 6.
But the 3-year-old from Avoca might have been just a bit too shy to ask the officer if she could visit with Athena, the Doberman pinscher wearing a badge and safety vest.
So, Cecelia “settled” for petting Sage, the 4-month-old German Shepherd puppy belonging to Duryea police officer Jason Barry.
“People keep asking me if Sage is in training to be a K-9 officer,” Barry said. “That might happen. But she’s still a baby. She’s just here today for the socialization.”
Socialization and community were the focus during the annual National Night Out sponsored by the Duryea and Avoca Crime Watch groups and police departments.
While it was really more of an afternoon, the celebration was the same as in so many towns and municipalities across the country.
“It’s a simple but great idea that brings the communities together,” said Officer Ken Salvo, from the Avoca Police Department who also serves as liaison officer with the borough’s crime watch group. “And it’s a way for community members to interact with the police, to get to know us as their neighbors, not just the meanies behind the badge.”
This year’s event was the seventh for the Duryea department and the third in conjunction with their neighbors from Avoca.
Cecelia was one of dozens of kids of all ages who roamed about the playground enjoying an afternoon of activities along with their parents and grandparents and crime watch members. Oh, and yes, there were cops.
It wasn’t just cops, kids and dogs, either.
There was the bounce house and games. There were basket raffles and baked goods, hot dogs and drinks. There was an artist with an airbrush ready to turn any kid’s face into a painted mask. There were tables manned by folks from the Attorney General’s office and the Lackawanna College Police Academy offering all kinds of information about keeping neighborhoods safe. The Wilkes-Barre Fire Department’s Fire Safety House sat in one corner, offering lessons in “Stop, Drop and Roll.”
The biggest squeals of delight came from the kids with pitching skills at the dunk tank, an annual favorite. Cadets from the Lackawanna College Police Academy took turns getting wet after a lucky pitch or after the littlest of kids got to push on the target.
The DJ who provided the musical background was a repeat feature. But for the first time, dancers from the David Blight School of Dance were on hand to perform a few routines and give some mini-lessons in break dancing and funk.
And officers introduced some of the kids to “beer goggles,” glasses that mimic the results of drinking alcohol. They put all comers through some of the paces of a DUI arrest, asking folks to walk along one of the lines on the basketball court.
“I saw two lines,” said 15-year-old Dylan Winburn, from Avoca. “At least I think it was two. And I thought I did pretty good, but the cop said what I did would have gotten me arrested anyway.”
But beer goggles and climbing into a police car were really secondary to the point of the day, Salvo said.
“The point of events like this is to help people in the community, and especially the kids, get to know us and understand the work we do,” he said. “And we want them to know they can come to us when they need help. We’re people who have a job to do. But we are also part of the community.”
It’s not unusual to see a Duryea officer on the basketball court near the city hall shooting hoops with a kid. Or to see cops in both communities at town events, he said.
“We try to be there with the crime watch people for things like Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties,” said Duryea officer Mike Rosemellia, who, like Salvo, serves as a police liaison to the crime watch in his town. “And our department gets backing from the community as well, including support from the council.”
The community’s support showed in the National Night Out event as well, said Trina Moss, head of the Duryea Crime Watch. Everything there was sponsored by or was an outright donation from a business or organization in the community, including the basket raffle prizes and the baked goods. And another first for this year, fireworks to end the celebration. Money raised from this event will go to other community events throughout the year. The crime watch groups also set aside some funds for equipment for their police forces.
And they are all to ready to host National Night Out events as well, she said.
“It’s all about building community,” she said. “It’s about keeping the cops in the community, walking in the neighborhoods, getting to know the people. And it’s about crime watch groups – and everyone in the community – getting involved, being extra eyes and ears for our police officers who can’t be everywhere at once. If we all get involved, we build strong communities.”