Police, firefighters and public services descended on Central Park on Tuesday evening.
But it wasn’t a tragedy or even an emergency — it was a positive function for a good cause.
The city’s annual National Night Out, billed as a crime and drug prevention event, was designed to strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.
Despite the heat and humidity, hundreds of Norfolkans enjoyed free food and games, all while learning about the many services available in the community and interacting with local and state law enforcement.
Sgt. Ted McCarthy with the Norfolk Police Division said the event allows law enforcement officers to talk to people and get to know them in a positive setting.
Chief Don Miller echoed the sentiment, saying it’s good for both police officers and community members to interact in a light-hearted atmosphere.
“It’s all about the police getting a chance to know the community on a positive note, to interact with the kids and talk to them so they can get to know us,” Miller said.
The National Night Out organization, in its 36th year, has been going for 11 years in Norfolk, barring weather challenges, he said.
“It continues to grow every year. We have well over 40 different organizations here this year. ... It’s been exciting to see this expand over the years,” Miller said.
Representatives from the Boy Scouts, the Norfolk Lions Club, the Norfolk Family Coalition, the Norfolk Noon Optimists, Read Aloud Norfolk, Good Life Counseling, 4-H, the Morning Optimists Club and many more were on site interacting with the crowd.
Many of those organizations had tables set up with free games and prizes for kids, as well as information on the services they offer.
Freebies available for pickup included mosquito repellent, mini flashlights, children’s books, cold drinks, ice cream, candy and snacks and small trinkets.
Since the National Night Out ran from 6 to 8 p.m., there were also free dinner options provided by Hy-Vee East and the Salvation Army.
Sgt. Eric Pfeiffer with the Nebraska State Patrol helped run a “Seatbelt Convincer,” which was popular with the kids.
“It simulates a crash at 5 miles per hour and what that’s like to come to a complete stop. The impact gives you an idea of what even an accident at a slow speed is like and how important seatbelts are,” Pfeiffer said.
The Norfolk Fire Division had two popular activities for kids — an obstacle course called the “Combat Challenge” and water fights with fire hoses.
Fire Chief Scott Cordes said the National Night Out is a wonderful event for the community.
“Obviously, our firefighters care about our men in blue, and we will do anything to support them,” he said.
His favorite part of the night was seeing Norfolk come out together to enjoy an evening at the park.
“Seeing the people smiling is my favorite part of all of this. It’s just nice to watch everyone having a good time,” Cordes said.