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National Night Out unites police, kids, ice cream

Forest Grove's event on Tuesday features giveaways, raffles and food

The free Frisbees, ice cream and bikes about to be handed over to Forest Grove community members come with a catch: You might have to walk up and say hello to a police officer when you pick them up.

For the officers, it's a chance to give out something way more fun than a speeding ticket.NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO - Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz meets a few of National Night Out's younger attendees.

That’s the idea behind next Tuesday's National Night Out, said Capt. Mike Herb of the Forest Grove Police Department. The nationwide public-safety awareness event is also an opportunity for communities to get to know their officers (or deputies) in a casual setting, full of food and music and activities.

Forest Grove has thrown some sort of celebration for National Night Out since 2006 but this year’s event, held at Pacific University from 4 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 2, will be the biggest ever.

“We have more vendors, more music,” said Herb. Last year the police department raffled off 10 bikes — this year, 20. There will be an “Ice Cream with a Cop” station, a climbing wall and a Light & Power bucket truck. “What kid doesn’t like free stuff and ice cream?” Herb said.

Nathan Seable, chair of Forest Grove's Public Safety Advisory Committee, hopes the expanded activities will mean higher attendance. Last year 600 to 800 people showed up. This year's goal is 1,000, said Seable, who helped organize the event.

“Look at what’s going on now, everything in the news, police being targeted. These things are important.”

When police officers can mingle with the community and build positive relationships and associations, everyone is safer — both officers and citizens, he said. It's an opportunity to mend fences before they break. Between 600 and 800 people attended last years event; this year that number could top 1000.

“Our job as a committee is to advocate for the police and fire departments in the community,” Seable explained. “This gives the officers a chance to reassert themselves as peace officers.”

Herb agreed, adding that Forest Grove officers do their best to connect with community members whenever possible, but it's usually on a small scale. “Like taking an extra patrol at a park...you’ll get to talk to maybe a couple of kids."

National Night Out connects them with hundreds.

“Our officers have a good reputation,” said Seable, “and we have a wonderful community. But it’s a big responsibility. Forest Grove shoulders a lot of the gang activity in Washington County, and the officers have plenty of challenges on their hands.”

Fortunately, those challenges don’t often include disagreements or confrontations with citizens.

Even as police-community relationships around the county grow strained — or in some cases, deadly — the outpouring of support for officers in Forest Grove has been stunning — and delicious: “There’s been a never-ending supply of cards and goodies dropped off at the department,” said Herb, who is also aware of a community effort to organize an appreciation barbeque in September.

The sheer number of edible thank-you gestures is unbelievable, he said. "Sometimes it’s like, ‘What is the community really thinking? Are they trying to make us fat?’”