Lebanon’s Don Fox Park bustled and brimmed with conversation on Tuesday evening during an event that brought the many pieces of Lebanon into full view.

Grounded in roots with community-engaged law enforcement, National Night Out champions all sorts of organizations that enhance life for residents within a certain area.

In Lebanon, the annual congregation has come to be one of the city’s larger public gatherings.

“For us as a police department it’s always one of our big events of the year,” Sgt. P.J. Hardy, public information officer of the Lebanon Police Department, said.

Hardy said that the event featured a great turnout, bigger than he would have expected.

“Coming off a COVID year, this has been absolutely phenomenal,” Hardy said.

Part of what makes National Night Out such an enlightening event stems from exposure to local non-profits and municipal organizations that provide services to community members.

“We’ve been giving out a lot of brochures to senior citizens that didn’t know about us,” Lebanon Senior Citizens Center Executive Director Patti Watts said.

Watts was not alone. Other organizations leaders said they were delighted about getting their names and faces out there.

Harold Weist was representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5015. He said that it really helps promote the organization. Weist said that not only does it help channel communications to local veterans about benefits offered through the organization, but it also raises awareness about other events that the VFW does throughout the year, like the Field of Flags event on Independence Day.

The 15th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center also had a booth at the event. The organization’s executive director, Scott Ridgway, said that while his message pertains to the wellness of children, it’s intended for the parents.

“We want adults to know the signs of child abuse and be able to recognize when that’s happening,” Ridgway said.

A providential stop by his booth could be a child’s saving grace.

While a lot of community information was available, the big draw was all the first responders’ equipment, vehicles and K-9 companions. One attendee, Brad Montgomery, said that his daughters really enjoyed getting to see the “different tools and vehicles they use at the police department. They got to talk with the forensic team.”

Montgomery said that his daughters love Nancy Drew and want to be detectives, so it was a thrilling experience for them.

One Lebanon grandmother, Machelle Cunningham, was showing her grandson, Braxton, why having familiar relationships with law enforcement is a positive thing.

“I think it’s important for kids to get to know the police,” Cunningham said. “You hear a lot of bad things about police and law enforcement. This way you get to see the good things they do and become more personable with them.”

Mt. Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick echoed Cunningham’s comment with remarks of his own. Hambrick said it made him feel good seeing so many people out at the park because it’s a chance to familiarize relationships with officers.

He said this is extremely important.

“Especially with the current climate between communities and law enforcement around the country, it’s imperative we get out and be seen in the community,” Hambrick said. “It’s not only about the citizens coming out but also law enforcement agencies coming together for a good cause of connecting with the community. It’s great.”

Hambrick admitted that he knows the kids’ excitement comes mostly from the departments bringing out their “toys.”

“The little kids are still in awe of things,” Hambrick said.

However, Hambrick said that its equally imperative to build that connection with teenagers and young adults to “let them know that we are with them and not against them.”

National Night Out was started in the 1980s, through an already-established network of law-enforcement agencies, neighborhood watch groups, civic groups, state and regional crime prevention associations and volunteers across the nation. According to the event’s sponsoring organization’s website, the first annual National Night Out involved 2.5 million neighbors across 400 communities in 23 states.

Since that time, the event has evolved to become a celebration beyond just front porch vigils and symbolic efforts amongst neighbors to send a message of neighborhood camaraderie. Neighborhoods across the nation now host block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and various other events centered around community engagement and safety.

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