Editorial: On National Night Out and every day, local police let the community in
By Richard Gaw
In Toughkenamon and West Grove last Tuesday evening, as part of the annual National Night Out celebration, members of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department played with neighborhood children on police bicycles, as if they were children themselves.
For that one evening, volunteer firefighters and EMS professionals from the West Grove and Avondale fire companies looked at their red and yellow vehicles with eyes of wonder and flights of fancy, and for a moment, they remembered that the childhood dreams they had to one day be able to climb in those massive trucks had come true.
Across the United States on Aug. 7, the walls and regimen that very often keep our police and firefighters at a distance – real or imagined – fell to the ground. In that act of safe surrender, the efforts of many served to turn Toughkenmon and West Grove into a playground of common ground. Bands played. Local businesses came out of their brick and mortar comfort zones. Kids danced through moon bounces with a lightness of near flight. Police officers took up conversations with those who live in the neighborhoods they serve.
The impact of National Night Out is as ingenious as it is contagious, and when the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department began to construct the blocks of its foundation a few years ago, the events that took place last Tuesday evening served as the visual dream of that foundation. The dream is now a day-to-day reality, as well as a duty, and it doesn't end with National Night Out. Throughout the year, the department has formed a near-constant presence in the community.
The department will permit an adult with an interest in law enforcement to perform a ride-along with a police officer.
At schools, public meetings and local organizations, it is very common to see a member of the department speaking about public safety, or handing out awards for academic excellence or civilian good deeds.
The department is a regular fixture at all community events, and there's likely few children in Avondale, Landenberg, West Grove or Toughkenamon who haven't toured inside a department police vehicle or gotten to know an officer by name.
If the core values of the Southern Chester County Regional Department – under the direction of Chief Gerald Simpson and Deputy Chief Michael King – are Human Life, Integrity, Justice and Duty, then its dedication to seeking ways to connect with the community is next on that list of values.
Its appearance in Toughkenamon and West Grove last Tuesday evening – backed by the same presence of our local fire and EMS units – proves that. It is believed that the most honest way for police, fire and emergency services departments to incorporate themselves within the community they serve is to remove all barriers that subject it to scrutiny and misconception.
On Aug. 7, our regional police officers took off their cool glasses, celebrated their humanness and their vulnerabilities, and looked at every man, woman and child who came to celebrate with them as if they were about to sit down for family dinner.
And how safe is that?