With Westminster’s Sigler Park teeming with children and adults, sirens blared as a couple of police SUVs pursued a sedan.
The trio sped onto the park’s field, surrounded by the crowd standing safely behind police tape and fencing, and the demonstration ensued.
The mock demo was part of Westminster Police Department’s annual Safety Day, held Thursday, July 20 and designed to encourage positive interaction between police and fire, and the residents of the community.
WPD Chief Ralph Ornelas, who mingled with members of the community throughout the event, said the day allows residents to see firsthand how members of law enforcement do their jobs, as well as to help open a line of communication and allow police to be seen on a more human level.
“This type of event makes the public believe in what we’re doing,” Ornelas said.
Indeed, there were plenty of “wows” and “awwws” during the mock demonstration, which turned out to be a pursuit of two “suspects” in the sedan who also held a woman “hostage.”
One of the officers in the pursuit was Travis Hartman, with police K9 Pako, who worked the scenario effectively – and at Hartman’s command, Pako had one of the suspects (who was in full bite suit) in custody.
The second suspect took the female hostage into a yellow school bus set on the field. After Pako’s apprehension, West County SWAT, with sirens wailing, also headed onto the field. The team set off a sound bomb, which is used to disorient suspects with a loud noise and flash of light, as they made their way to the bus. They emerged with the suspect in custody and the hostage now safe.
“So the SWAT team just saved the lady – let’s hear it for the SWAT team,” Commander Mark Lauderback said to the audience.
The children – and their parents – in the audience were enthralled by the demonstration, which also included an Orange County Fire Authority rescue helicopter landing and taking off from the field.
At the end of the demo, SWAT team members walked along the edge of the crowd smiling, waving and giving high-fives.
“I want their autograph!” one boy yelled out excitedly.
Once given the go-ahead, the kids ran onto the field for a close-up view of the helicopter and SWAT truck, which they were able to board.
Lauderback said this positive interaction is exactly what Safety Day aims to create.
“It gives us the opportunity to interact on a friendly level,” he said. “I think it is accomplishing what we set out for our mission … break down the barrier.”
In addition to the SWAT and K9 demo, Orange County Fire Authority firefighters were on hand with a couple of fire trucks. They ended the event with a victim extraction demonstration, where they took apart a car with axes, saws and other tools to simulate how they would work to free a trapped victim.
Other groups at the event in the various booths throughout the park included the California Highway Patrol, OC Child Support Services, Orange County Vector Control District, Alzheimer’s Orange County, Midway City Sanitary District and Kid Print, which is a digital fingerprint scanner for smartphones.
Kids lined up at the Animal Control and K9 tent to get their chance at petting the serene Pako, as well as a snake currently under Animal Control’s care.
Ornelas said he’s been getting good feedback at community events like this.
“I’m really impressed with the amount of positive comments about the police department and fire department… I feel very pleased about the response.”