Lexington County, SC (Paul Kirby) – On both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, despite threatening weather that rumbled and at times dumped rain, law enforcement agencies across the county celebrated the 35th anniversary of the National Night Out (NNO). The National Night Out events are intended as a way for neighbors to come together and get to know or reacquaint themselves with each other and to interact with the law enforcement professionals and agencies that are charged with protecting them on a daily basis.
In Lexington County, these can be large events that take months to plan with very elaborate activities, displays, and other ways to entertain those who attend. In other cases, they may be small affairs in just the neighborhood that might include no more than a few refreshments, some hot dogs or burgers on the grill, and just “bring your own chair” affairs. In all cases they are excellent ways to bond, communicate the old way, face-to-face, and share information regarding what’s happening where you live with the family down the block or the officer who patrols your streets.
On Tuesday night, one of the first to kick off was the Pine Ridge Police Department’s first NNO in some time. This year, Chief Nicholas Scott organized it at the Congaree Baptist Church, a smart move because it seemed determined to rain on and off that entire evening. Although it seemed it might be a smallish affair from the time you entered the parking area, it was not. It was well organized, well attended, and a brilliant effort by the young chief and his staff as well as the town’s leaders. There was a bounce slide indoors that kids were really enjoying, Councilmember Beth Spires Sturkie was working the kitchen with a big smile loading heaping plates of all kinds of great food from meatballs in a gravy to what looked like something yummy with Nacho cheese slathered across the top. Of course, there were drinks and sweets and all of it was free.
Down one whole wall of the gym were tables loaded with back to school supplies that were headed to the local school and their children as donations. Across the gym floor were vendors and tables with every kind of information available as well as lots of free things that were being given away. The town’s mayor, Robert Wells, was a bit wilted from the heat and humidity but was in full swing at the microphone regularly giving away door prizes.
Meanwhile, in Lexington, at the park beside the Judicial Center, Lexington PD’s large affair was slamming as it always is. There were vendors of every kind, displays, balloon artist, face painting, and food of every type. Merchants from the local area were generous as they always are, and Chief Terrance Green and Mayor Steve MacDougal went from place to place stopping to say hello and greet the throngs who came and went. This is an all-hands-on-deck affair and the officers of the Lexington PD don’t let the community down. Kids get to see them at their best, albeit a bit wilted as this one is completely outside, and the children learn quickly that these are good people that are your friends, not the bad guys.
Irmo PD also had one in their town park complete with music, food, and lots of displays, and did I mention food! Once again, the law enforcement community was assisted by other public safety agencies to make this a grand affair.
Even the small ones in communities like Lloydwood, Ridgefield near Pelion, and Whiskey Road, one of the oldest around, had something cooking. In all cases, Sheriff Koon did his best to have a senior staffer stop by, congregate and communicate, and get to know the folks that lived in those areas.
On Wednesday, one of the county’s largest was held in Batesburg-Leesville. This year, there was a big move to West Railroad Avenue from Leesville’s College Park. Here, the town, the Batesburg-Leesville Chamber of Commerce, the Ministerial Alliance, the Merchant’s Association, and lots of others come to make this a huge affair. At this one, they’ve honed it to perfection. Firefighters burn things, the police show off their urban assault vehicle as well as patrol cars, the Sheriff’s Department throws in a bomb truck and other neat things, and everyone leaves full, fatter, and tired, but have had the time of their life!
In Red Bank, Wal-Mart always plays host by giving one whole side of their parking lot to the action. Law enforcement agencies come from everywhere, and Cocky from USC is just one of the mascots that show up; Think Sheriff Koon, a rabid USC fan has anything to do with this, hum? It is amazing how this thing comes together with the support of area businesses, churches, and the deputies and officers of course.
This year, the Gaston Crime Watch broke out again with their own NNO at the Collard Kitchen on Carlisle Street. They had thrown in with Red Bank a few years ago, but it was good to see them back. Here too, everyone from the SCDNR to the fire service pitched in. Kudos to Resident Deputy Shannon Lovell, Robert White and all the folks from the Gaston Crime Watch, and all the businesses that chipped in to make this a success.
When all was said and done, tons of effort went in to making these happen. I’m sure I left some out, and for that I’m sorry in advance. The bottom line is that now, more children from across the county know that the police are their friends, not the bad guy that’s putting a drunk or drugged up family member or acquaintance in handcuffs. They can go to the police when they are in distress and need some help. All-in-all, National Night Out across our county was huge and for that we all should thank our local law enforcement