It started with one police car. Soon a Juneau Police Department SUV, animal control truck, firetruck, ambulance and mobile incident command vehicle were on the scene on Rivercourt Way Tuesday night with lights flashing and sirens occasionally sounding off in staccato bursts.
The intercom of one of the vehicles squawked to life and high-pitched voice mentioned Peppa Pig followed by snorting, which drew laughter from a crowd of well over a dozen kids and their adults.
The crowd, vehicles, emergency responders and law enforcement officers were present for National Night Out, an annual nationwide campaign to strengthen police-community partnerships.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from NNO since it began,” said Lt. Krag Campbell of the Juneau Police Department in an email. “It provides a great opportunity to bring police and neighbors together under positive circumstances. Since typical engagements at work are not always under the best situations. Usually there are kids that attend the block parties as well. It lets them interact with police and other first responders. Kids really enjoy getting to sit in the police/fire vehicles and even use the sirens.”
Tuesday night, kids formed lines to sit inside emergency vehicles, set off sirens and uttered goofiness into vehicle microphones. Youths used their time with the mic in a variety of ways. Some filled the Mendenhall Valley neighborhood air with calls out to friends and siblings. At least one child broadcast the word “butt,” a choice that quickly drew light-hearted admonishment from parents. Kids and police officers played games of soccer and cornhole. Hot dogs and confections were enjoyed.
Shelby Race, 5, who was joined by siblings Daisy, 7; and Bodhi, 3; said her favorite part of the event was the mobile incident command vehicle, since it distributed goody bags to attendees.
Campbell said JPD has been involved in the event for 13 years, but skipped festivities last year due to COVID-19. This year, masked responders —Campbell put the total over 60 —went to 18 separate NNO parties in the community.
Participating organizations included JPD, Alaska State Troopers, Capital City Fire/ Rescue, Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, Juneau Animal Rescue and the U.S. Coast Guard. Participating animals included McGruff the Crime Dog and his friend Sparky, as well as SEADOGS team members.
The Riverway party was hosted in the Beck family’s yard and saw visitors from those organizations, including McGruff, who proved skilled at lawn games and was pet on the head by about a half-dozen children.
Josie Beck, whose husband is JPD Sgt. Ben Beck, said the crowd of children on hand was not totally out of the norm for the street, which she said is sometimes referred to as the sandlot because of the kids at play. It was the Beck family’s first year hosting, Josie Beck said, and only the second Juneau NNO she had attended.
Josie Beck said events like NNO serve as a critical reminder that emergency responders and law enforcement officers are members of the community and neighbors.
“Now, more than ever, it’s important to promote and foster positive relationships between the community and police,” Josie Beck said.