By Peter Zuniga, Correspondent
The smell of barbecue and the sounds of country music filled Yettie Polk Park on Saturday. From noon to closer to five p.m., vendors, food trucks, the police department and nearly every other side of the local community was present. Even a free concert was held from 1-3 p.m., featuring Jackie Darlene, an up-and-coming country singer.
National Night Out Kickoff Party is the first annual kickoff for the National Night Out event, hosted by the police department. At National Night Out, multiple neighborhood parties happen around the city, and the purpose is to deter crime in neighborhoods by bringing the police department and the community together on a closer level.
Brian Kinard, a member of the Belton Citizen Police Academy, and his wife, Cathy Kinard, partnered with Belton PD to put on the kickoff. For four years, Brian Kinard has served at the National Night Out event.
When asked about the uniqueness of the event, Kinard said, “It’s extremely important. It’s a way to get rid of crime. You get everybody watching together in the neighborhood. [If] you see somebody you don’t know around your neighbors house, just pick up the phone, call 9-1-1. Tell them you’ve got a suspicious person you’ve never seen before–there you go.”
While Belton PD was present with a few of their officers, Badge the Police Dog, an old, retro police squad car and more, the event’s purpose was to also create a space for the local neighborhoods to integrate on a closer level, which is the reason for the local block parties on National Night Out.
Jacob Schmille, Belton PD officer, said, “it’s giving a place for the community to come and talk with their neighbors without feeling uncomfortable, with the types of crime that do tend to happen. It’s just a safe place for people to come and talk.”
Schmille, who served the Air Force in active duty for eight years before joining Belton PD in 2016, spoke about the department’s desire to grow closer to the local community. When asked about his person thoughts on the event, Schmille said, “It gives us the opportunity to see the people that we don’t get to see on a regular basis.
“I don’t want to give you a percentage, but a good deal of the time, when we deal with people in a law enforcement capacity, it’s on their worst day…to be able to come down here and interact with them when they’re not having issues, it makes us appreciate the community more. It makes them appreciate us more, because we’re just down here to talk to them.”
H-E-B and the local animal shelter were among the vendors present. Even a couple of members from the Fort Hood Military Police K9 Program showed up to give multiple patrol demonstrations with their K9, named “Oggy,” a Belgian Malinois.
The Gatesville Chapter for Gypsy MC, an international motorcycle club, stayed the entire time, cooking and selling barbecue. Shane Goodman, Sgt. at Arms for the Gatesville Chapter, spoke on the club’s involvement.
“We’re here to support the community,” Goodman said, “and do what we need to do to take care of the people that are around us and support us, as well as supporting law enforcement…”
Goodman hopes to change the negative perspective some people have on motorcycle clubs. “Gypsy Motorcycle Club is a different club versus a lot of the other clubs that are out there.”, Goodman said. “We patch women. We have children that are patched in as junior members and raised in the club. We promote a very healthy family environment amongst ourselves…”
Their chapter often sells barbecue to raise funds for themselves, in order to help members and anyone in the community who “falls on hard times,” as Goodman said.
“I think an event like this definitely helps improve that [perspective on law enforcement] for the community,” Goodman also said, “to see various cultures, so to speak, within the same area, working to fund the same cause. It says a lot.”
Belton PD organizes another event called “Coffee With a Cop”, where anyone is invited to a certain local restaurant or establishment to have a free cup of coffee with a police officer. “…if they have questions,” Officer Schmille said, “it’s kind of a neutral place to sit there and discuss what they want to talk about. It’s a way for us to get to know the community better.”
More information on upcoming “Coffee With a Cop” and other Belton PD events can be found on the Belton Police Department Facebook page.
Featured photo by Christopher Winston