Adults, kids and dogs met Aug. 6 for an evening of food, activities and mingling with Westminster police officers and other public service agencies at the annual National Night Out — this year in the Vons parking lot on Beach Boulevard.
The event brought together agencies and businesses from across the city — and even some from outside city boundaries — including the California Highway Patrol, Orange County Fire Authority, WAGS Pet Adoption, Interval House Crisis Shelters & Centers for Victims of Domestic Violence, Young Marines, CASA Youth Shelter, Pieology, The Home Depot, FBI Jobs, Chick-fil-A, AT&T, the City of Westminster and more.
Several representatives from the Westminster Police Department, including those from Animal Control, the Westminster Police Officers’ Association (WPOA), patrol and the detectives’ bureau were also on-hand answering questions and giving out stickers to kids.
Acting Police Chief Mark Lauderback, who was at the event mingling with locals, said it’s all about connecting in a casual and friendly setting with members of the community, and to help ease the sense of intimidation some people might have about those in law enforcement.
“It’s just about the community being able to talk to us without being afraid,” Lauderback said.
Some attendees echoed this idea, including teacher Julie Dodosh, who was at the event with her daughter. She said she wanted to expose her daughter to the idea that police officers shouldn’t be feared. Dodosh said that as an educator, it’s really important to encourage this kind of community building.
“You have to have a connection between home, school and community,” she said.
Yvette Mayorga of Huntington Beach attended with her daughter, as well as her sons. Her daughter participated in The Home Depot’s craft station where kids could build a tool box with the help of a provided tool kit that included an apron, materials and instructions.
“We just came out to support our community,” Mayorga said, adding that her husband is a police officer with another agency.
Attendees munched on free food samples provided by vendors as well as free hot dogs and hamburgers grilled by the WPOA. They were also treated to a demo by Dutch shepherd K9 Pako and his partner Officer Travis Hartman, who showed community members how the popular police dog apprehends suspects with the help of a Westminster Police Department agitator in a bite suit. Hartman explained that when it comes to work, it’s actually playtime for Pako.
“Pako’s not a vicious animal by any means,” Hartman told the large crowd gathered to watch the demonstration. “This is a giant game of hide-and-seek.”
Other groups were also in attendance to talk to the community about the services they offer, including HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, which had several handlers and their dogs available to interact with the public. HOPE is a volunteer-based, nonprofit, national organization that provides dog teams to offer comfort in crisis and disaster situations, including fires and mass shootings. Teams are called out on request by groups like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross.
“We just kind of sit with them and ask them if they would like to pet the dog,” said Katherine Jarrett, handler to a miniature poodle, Teddy, who was ready for snuggles.
Representatives from Interval House Crisis Shelters & Centers for Victims of Domestic Violence were available to answer questions and talk about their work. Inshirah Oweini, Middle Eastern program director, said the organization has been collaborating with the Westminster Police Department for many years. Interval House offers classes, shelters, support groups and counseling for victims of domestic violence. Oweini said 95 percent of their staff are formerly battered women.
“That’s what makes our program unique,” she said. “We come every year. … We like to show the community that we’re here for them.”