Be sure to mark your calendar for National Night Out. The countywide event will be held at the Walworth County fairgrounds in Elkhorn on Tuesday, Aug. 6, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that encourages police-community partnerships to make our neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live. It promotes awareness about police programs in communities, including anti-crime efforts.
National Night Out events have been held since the 1980s, often on the first Tuesday in August. Most cities and villages across the country choose to host their own, stand-alone events. Walworth County holds a consolidated event that is unique from many of these other observances in three respects.
Coordinated effort. A number of individual communities have held National Night Out programs in our county over the years. In 2016, the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department helped coordinate a countywide event at the fairgrounds. Public safety professionals from numerous communities in our county as well as state agencies, such as the DNR and State Patrol, are invited to participate in a consolidated event.
In my estimation, this move was a real plus, because there is so much more to see than at events that feature a single agency. Deputy Dan Nelson from the sheriff’s office deserves a lot of credit for bringing together all of the individuals and departments, and for organizing an event that keeps growing.
Public safety-oriented. Rather than just providing information about law enforcement, the countywide Night Out features numerous other public safety agencies, such as fire and EMS departments. This list of professionals has expanded to include agencies such as our Health and Human Services Department as well as the Children’s Advocacy Center (Treehouse), which coordinates the investigation of child abuse and provides medical and therapy services to child victims.
The Walworth County Firefighters Association’s “smokehouse” is slated to be at this year’s event. The smokehouse reinforces lifesaving strategies to help you survive in the event you are ever trapped in a burning building.
Demonstrations. Many Night Out events feature static displays of equipment, and ours is no exception. Past events have featured the opportunity to learn about state-of-the-art fire trucks and even the sheriff’s armored “Bearcat” tactical vehicle. While the static displays are interesting, the countywide event also features live demonstrations. These not only show the equipment and tactics used to fight crime, but highlight the cooperation that exists among public safety agencies in our county.
Past Night Outs included K-9 officers from the sheriff’s office and the city of Whitewater who demonstrated the dual mission of their canine partners in both apprehending suspects and detecting drugs. The scenario, which played out in the grandstand area of the fairgrounds, began with a traffic stop. When drugs were detected in the car, the suspect (in this case, a sheriff’s deputy in a thickly padded suit) fled the scene only to be apprehended by one of the K-9s. According to Deputy Nelson, a drone from the Town of Linn is going to be involved in the demonstration this year.
Another scenario that will be repeated features a car accident. Firefighters use the Jaws of Life to open a car door, while deputies will provide traffic control as an EMT stabilizes the victim for transport to a hospital.
When the event was first proposed, I wasn’t quite sure how many folks would make the trip to the fairgrounds on a weekday evening. That question was answered right away when a large and enthusiastic crowd showed up for the first opening ceremony. The event has grown since then and is in its fourth year.
According to Deputy Nelson, the fairground gates will open at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 6. Over 40 exhibitors will be set up in North Hall, providing safety-oriented information from groups such as New Beginnings/APFV, the Walworth County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force and Bikers Against Child Abuse.
TRIAD of Walworth County will be there as well. I reported on this group a few months ago. They have a computer that creates a digital record of a child or senior. This information can be very useful in the event a person becomes lost or is reported missing.
If that isn’t enough, there will be free haircuts and even face painting. Food and beverages will be available courtesy of generous donations from Richter’s Marketplace, Sorg’s Meats, McDonald’s, Lake Geneva Country Meats, Frito Lay, Wilson Meats and Kwik Trip. Other event sponsors include Thrivent Financial, Aurora Health Care, Advia Credit Union, Lamar Signs, Deb and Jeff Scherer, Dawley Aviation and Walmart, which donated bikes that will be given away at the event.
Don’t think of leaving early because the Flight for Life helicopter is scheduled to arrive sometime after 7 p.m., and at 8:15 p.m. there will be a display of lights. At that time, all of the emergency vehicles on site will turn on their emergency lights, which will definitely be something to see. Before you leave, be sure to vote for the best-looking police and fire/EMS vehicle.
I have been to numerous National Night Out events in different communities over the years, but Walworth County’s is a standout. From my perspective, the event left folks feeling a little bit easier knowing that our county’s public safety agencies are prepared to deal with any situation that they might have to confront. You can learn more about the event by checking out the Walworth County National Night Out Facebook page.
David Bretl is the county administrator for Walworth County. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.