“This event aims to increase awareness about police programs and community programs,” said Gulfport Police Officer J.D. Brown. The Gulfport Police Department, Gulfport Fire Department and the Florida Highway Patrol were all represented at the event, making themselves available to attendees and mingling with the community.
“I enjoy the opportunity to get to know the community,” said Gulfport Detective Michael Rossi.
Gulfport’s Night Out is part of a nationwide movement for community crime awareness, dating back to 1984. The annual event originally started with 2.5 million neighbors across the country leaving their porch lights on, and has evolved into today’s larger community events. According to the National Night Out website, the event now involves “38 million neighbors in 16 thousand communities across the nation.”
Joining first responders in Gulfport were community organizations like The Lions Club, the Gulfport Public Library, Gulfport Neighbors and CERT, Gulfport’s community emergency response team. The Gulfport Neighbor’s table was filled with colorful school supplies for kids heading back to school in the fall.
“This is the third year we’ve done this,” said Margarete Tober of the donations. “Seeing all the kids and just being able to help is the best part to me.”
CERT volunteers focused their efforts during Night Out on natural disaster readiness, with an emphasis on the upcoming hurricane season. They encouraged the elderly and those with special needs to fill out the special needs registration form provided by Pinellas County. Registrants will be contacted by CERT or first responders prior to a hurricane, to check in and get them to a shelter, if needed.
Florida Highway Patrol officers demonstrated the importance of seat belts in rollover crashes with test dummies and a rotating car unit. State Trooper Tod Cloud operated the machine, which had four dummies inside, first with seat belts and then without. The dummies only fell out of the car when not restrained.
“Ninety-five percent of people in rollover crashes die because when they get ejected from their car, they get run over by it,” he said. The lesson? Wear your seatbelt, always.
Other highlights of Night Out included a therapy pony Amos the Wonder Horse, the Gulfport Marine Patrol boat, a CSI van and an visit from the Hamburglar, who ultimately got handcuffed.
“This is the best place to live in Florida by a long shot,” said Mayor Sam Henderson, addressing the crowd at Thursday’s event. “A safe, beautiful place to live.”