Note: Additional reporting and quotes from Cotati event by Katelyn Quin
Sizzling meatballs, a traditional South Korean Jujutsu performance, red fire engines and the Cotati Police Dog Remo, were only a few of the sights at this years’ 7th annual Rohnert Park National Night Out, where around 300 or so residents came out to engage with Rohnert Park Public Safety police officers and firefighters, as well as enjoy family friendly activities in conjunction with Cotati’s National Night Out, which was held later in the evening.
The RP National Night Out, which is part of a nation-wide NNO for police agencies throughout the 50 states, saw a bit of a larger turn-out than years past with its myriad food vendors and kids games, such as a bean bag toss.
Around 16 public safety officers were also in attendance to speak with the community and answer questions.
The singing of the national anthem kicked off the evening's events, afterwards attendees went around visiting the public safety booths, which included information on developmental services, safety tips and crime prevention tips.
Director of Public Safety Brian Masterson said the aim of RP’s NNO is to build a positive working relationship with the community, as well as provide both parents and kids tips on how to maintain a safe community.
“We encourage young people to meet the firemen and do the same with the police… and see the fire engines so they have a better understanding of the equipment and give them an opportunity to ask questions. It is a non-confrontational, low-key setting to talk to residents,” Masterson said. “And this (the event) is bigger than Rohnert Park, it’s about the importance of the safety of all in the community… and first and foremost the community can be better served when the police and the community speak.”
According to Masterson, it’s also helpful for public safety when the community has a network of residents who keep an eye out for suspicious activity, as well as when they make use of the safety tips and fliers that are given out at these types of events.
One such flier warned residents of phone scams which have been a recurring crime, Masterson said.
The event also encouraged child bicycle safety with the “Bike Rodeo” that took place on the city center lawn.
Kids were provided with bikes and helmets and were given a ride around a hand-drawn track past the fire trucks.
One Rohnert Park resident, who had never been to a NNO, said she was just walking by with her husband and son and decided to join in on the events since it looked so fun.
“It’s our first time coming, we were out for a walk because we always walk in the park and just decided to come by… we’ll absolutely come back, my son loves this,” she said, referring to all the fire trucks and police cars on display.
Commander Aaron Johnson attended the event for the 7th year in a row and said that his favorite part of the whole evening is seeing the kids enjoy the activities.
“It’s a good spot for families and my favorite part is the kids, whether it’s them getting recognized (in the balloon toss), getting a sticker, or seeing the police car. It’s about community engagement and it its nice to meet the people we serve,” Commander Johnson said.
Jette Selberg, a code compliance officer, echoed Commander Johnson’s thought, saying this community event “has really blossomed over the years.”
“It really is a family orientated event and we just want the community to come together, it’s really blossomed,” Selberg said.
Following the Sonoma Kuk Sool Won traditional Korean jujutsu performance, where students and teachers demonstrated self-defense moves, the popular “celebrity balloon toss” began around 7:15 p.m.
Commander Johnson organized the activity and lined up eight kids on the lawn, who were to choose their balloon toss partner. This year’s RP “celebrities” included Mayor Jake Mackenzie, Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz, Vice Mayor Pam Stafford, Director Brian Masterson, Council member Amy Ahanotu, Rotary President Heather-Ann Young, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Orloff and retired RP Department of Public Works employee Mike.
As the water balloons started to be tossed through the air, Mayor Mackenzie was the first to be out and even though Masterson won at last year’s event, Council member Ahanotu took the win for this year’s toss.
Masterson said he was happy of how successful the event has become.
“Its’ our 7th year doing it and it gets better every year… and I am proud of the professional staff on how they plan and organize it. The dispatchers, the administration and the records staff put this all on and they do a great job,” Masterson said.
Later in the evening, Cotati held their OWN NNO at La Plaza Park where the K-9 unit also made an appearance, where Remo and Officer Brian Deaton held a demonstration of the three-year-old dog’s skills.
Officer Deaton said that Cotati’s NNO also seemed to be larger than last year’s event. The event, “is bigger than last year, yet it continues the importance of the event,” he explained.
As well as in RP’s NNO, a free child ID booth was set up at the park, providing, child identification cards to parents. According to program coordinators, machines are set up throughout the county and if parents have their card on hand they can use them to find their child if lost.
“Events like National Night Out help us get the importance of this program out there and help parents understand ways to protect their children,” the coordinators, Jared and Thomas said.
Other notable sights at the Cotati event included the opportunity for kids to sit on a police motorcycle, explore the insides of a fire truck and the City of Cotati booths, which were promoting new community events in town, such as free lunch days and Zumba classes.
Officer Deaton said his favorite part of the event is getting to interact with the public and show people the work that him and his dog do on a daily basis.
“I enjoy getting to educate people on public safety and for the specifics of my job and educate them on the importance of police dogs. I feel it is important to engage with the community,” Deaton said.