ROCKINGHAM — Kids and cops converged at City Hall and Cole Plaza Tuesday evening in celebration of the annual National Night Out.
The nationwide program is in its 32nd year, but Rockingham has only been participating about 12 years, according to Chief Billy Kelly.
“It’s a good opportunity for police officers to come out and be with the community they serve,” he said. “A chance for us (as a community) to come out, enjoy the night, enjoy the free activities…just be together.”
To kick things off, Kelly and the Rockingham Police Department handed out certificates T-shirts to those who took part in the annual Junior Police Academy, which had more than 50 enrolled this year.
“Not all of them were able to attend,” Kelly said, adding that a majority of them showed up. “The fact that they took a week off from their summer to spend with us, we enjoyed it. It gave them an opportunity to see not only what the police department does, but (also) the sheriff’s office (and) different law enforcement agencies that are in the county.”
Following the graduation, there were several activities where officers and kids were able to interact, including a dunking booth and fingerprinting. There was also face painting, a rock-climbing wall and multiple inflatable attractions.
“I’m pleased with the turnout,” Kelly said, adding that it was about the same as it’s been the past two years. “Everybody’s having fun. They’re over there dunking officers — the line was pretty long a while ago.”
Up the hill in the parking lot of Leath Memorial Library, Sgt. Marcus Ricks with the Rockingham Police Department and Deputy N.L. Forester with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office were set up to talk about vehicle safety.
On display was a wrecked vehicle from the organization Vehicle Injury Prevention for a Very Important Person. The SUV was from a fatal crash involving teenagers who were speeding.
Ricks said it was unfortunate that “the only way we can open people’s eyes is to show them what happened.”
There were also child safety seat displays, as Sgt. Lee Bailey walked around with the Crash Dummies, with several kids and teenagers stopping to have their pictures taken with them.
Local band Hydrenaline was scheduled to perform for the third year in a row, but the concert was canceled due to the possible threat of severe weather, according to Kim Williams, city events coordinator. She said it was decided that it was easier not to have the band and sound equipment out in case of the rain.
Although the weather was hot and muggy, Kelly said it had been a lot worse.
National Night Out isn’t the only time the department interacts with the community.
Officers recently stopped by Sandhills Children’s Center, where they received handmade cards thanking them for their service. They also often make speaking appearances to school and civic groups.
Later this week, the department will take part in a back-to-school event with the Rockingham Housing Authority and will host one later in the month on Cauthen Drive.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.