Partying on a Tuesday night, first responders hang out with the community

Juneau Police Department Sgt. Chris Gifford speaks with a two Coast Guard members and a community member during National Night Out, Aug. 2, 2016. (Photo by Lakeidra Chavis/ KTOO)
Sgt. Chris Gifford of the Juneau Police Department speaks with two Coast Guard members and a community member during National Night Out event in Juneau on Tuesday. (Photo by Lakeidra Chavis/KTOO)

Tuesday evening, first responders showed up to 18 block parties in the capital city. Although they wore their badges, they were there to take part in the fun. The event was part of National Night Out, a national program focused on raising awareness about public safety.

In a large meeting room inside the Juneau Police Department, things are a bit busy.

Police officers are rationing out the cool vehicles they’ll ride in for National Night Out. Dozens of law enforcement officers, members of the Coast Guard, and the National Guard, among other groups, are preparing to attend 18 different parties across the city.

In order to attend them all, they’ve split into five teams. Sgt. Chris Gifford led one of them.

“So this is good for them to see us in a positive way and for us to see the community in a positive way,” Gifford says. “We’re just here eating hot dogs and showing off police cars.”

Gifford and his team, which includes a firetruck, two police cars and two members of the Coast Guard, visited four parties spread out across the Mendenhall Valley, Lemon Creek and a neighborhood near the airport.

At a cul-de-sac in the valley, Dee Ojard is chatting with neighbors. She also works for the police department. Ojard says events like this are a nice opportunity for community bonding, especially for the officers.

“These are people that they don’t ever see unless they’re in distress,” she said. “So, it’s nice to see them when they’re not in distress.”

Ojard’s worked for the department for 11 years, and helped organize Juneau’s first National Night Out nearly a decade ago.

“There are a lot more parties; there’s a lot more involvement, so I think it’s a good thing,” she said.

Throughout the two-hour event families chatted with law enforcement and safety officials, kids took photos, learned how to find fingerprints on a soda can and checked out the police cars.

Outside the First Church of God near the airport, Elwin Blackwell is celebrating the event with his family. His parents are sitting outside the church’s doors, while his brothers, nieces and nephews, and children chat and run around.

His church has participated in the National Night Out before, and he helped organize the event this year.

“I think it’s a good thing for neighbors to build that sense of community, to keep an eye out for each other,” he said.

Not every police department in the state took part in the event, but the Anchorage Police Department hosted a large party in the Mountain View neighborhood.

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