Sara Oyco and her husband, DJ, walked through Westminster Mall’s parking lot with their two young children, exploring the police, fire and city booths set up Aug. 1 for the city’s National Night Out event.
Their 8-year-old daughter, Zoey, had the opportunity to carry – with some assistance from a Westminster Police Department sergeant – a SWAT shield that was among other gear available for the public to touch and try on.
Sara said she and her husband try to teach their children to be comfortable around law enforcement and not to be afraid.
“They shouldn’t have to hide and run from people that help them,” she said.
This is exactly the idea behind the event, taking place the first Tuesday in August in cities across the county, state and country.
At the Target-area parking lot at the Westminster Mall, many families dropped by between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. for the fun and educational activities, including a meet-and-greet with WPD police K9 Pako and his handler Officer Travis Hartman, as well as a demo.
“It’s getting out in the community – breaking down that barrier,” said Commander Mark Lauderback.
Even the gloomy afternoon drizzle didn’t keep locals from coming by for hot dogs, a kids’ bounce house, a WPD motorcycle and bicycle display, an Orange County Fire Authority fire truck and West County SWAT truck, also on display for guests to check out. Booths included members of the WPD explorers, California Highway Patrol, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Orange County Transportation Authority and the Westminster Family Resource Center.
Attendees could be heard thanking officers for their service.
“In this type of venue, we get that a lot,” said Lauderback. “They can actually come up and interact … and touch and feel the equipment.”
Hartman and Pako put on a demonstration for the audience with the help of volunteer decoy Jeremy Miranda. In full bite suit, Miranda posed as a suspect, who Pako enthusiastically apprehended several times at Hartman’s command.
“They are not vicious,” Hartman told the audience. “They are not out to hurt people … for them, it’s a game.”
Following the demo, Hartman placed the bite suit out on display for parents and kids to examine.
WPD Chief Ralph Ornelas, who could be spotted smiling and chatting with guests, said National Night Out is a way of “letting the public know that we’re out here for them and we care for them.”