Sgt. Mike Johnson of the Garden Grove PD was on patrol the other day, stopped at a red light, when a man with a Vietnam Vet sticker on the back window of his truck rolled down his window to give him some choice words.
“Hey,” the man told the officer. “Thank you for your service. If you’re ever in trouble, I’ll be there for you.”
Post-Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings, it’s been like that in Garden Grove, Johnson said.
“I’ve had at least 10 people say nice things to me since (the officer killings),” Johnson said. “It’s pretty cool to see that members of our community still have positive feelings toward us.”
That spirit was evident Tuesday evening throughout Garden Grove as police officers fanned out to five locations to mingle with locals on National Night Out, the annual community-engagement event that this year had a special resonance given the recent violence targeting members of law enforcement.
Johnson went to Eastgate Park to greet residents Aug. 2.
At the Buena Clinton Family Resource Center, neighborhood kids slurped down snow cones, scarfed on doughnuts and cupcakes, and played games with members of the GGPD.
One officer, Josh Escobedo, nearly ate it when he borrowed a kid’s skateboard and got tripped up on a pencil while attempting tricks in full cop gear while sucking on a lollypop.
Escobedo regularly patrols Buena Clinton, which is a much safer place now when it was years ago, when drug dealers ruled the streets. About 4,000 residents — 2,800 or so of them under the age of 18 — live in the five-block section of the city.
“We’re building trust here,” Escobedo said of National Night Out. “This shows people we’re not just about law enforcement.”
Capt. Ben Stauffer noted that the GGPD has been participating in National Night Out for decades in an effort to build strong ties with residents.
The Garden Grove PD continues to enjoy strong support in the community, Stauffer said.
Community Service Officer Kelly Huynh said she looks forward to NNO.
“It’s a great opportunity for (residents) to get to know the police, and vice versa,” Huynh said.
The Buena Clinton Youth & Family Center is a magnet in the community, offering a slew of programs for kids and parents. Between 100 and 150 residents come through its doors daily, said Gabriela O’Cadiz-Hernandez, center director.
“We are about three main things: community involvement, safety, and providing the opportunity for kids and parents to engage in a positive environment,” O’Cadiz-Hernandez said.
Katia Bautista, a mother of four (ages 5 to 19) and longtime Buena Clinton resident, volunteers at the center.
“We have to be involved as parents to keep our kids safe and set a good example for them,” Bautista said.
Giselle Martinez, 14, served as a volunteer on NNO and participates in several center programs.
“The police want to make a difference in the community,” said Martinez, an incoming freshman at Santiago High School. “I used to be scared to go outside when I was younger, but now I feel a lot more safe.”
Elias Piñeda, 10, said he likes National Night Out because he gets police badge stickers.
“They (officers) are here to help us when we need it,” Piñeda said.
Echoing what Johnson recently experienced with the Vietnam Vet, Motor Officer Kathy Anderson, who swung by NNO at the Buena Clinton Youth & Family Center, related the story of recently pulling up to a red light at Harbor Boulevard and Garden Grove Boulevard.
A woman was so moved to see Anderson she started crying as she told the officer: “Thanks for protecting us and wearing the badge.”
Said Anderson: “It’s gratifying that (the public) sees us as people, too.”