Sirens flashed, hot dogs hit the grill, a steady mix of ’80s music pumped through the speakers and plenty of people smiled during Tuesday's National Night Out.
The event, which took place outside the Columbus Community Building, is a community-police awareness-raising gathering held throughout the United States on the first Tuesday in August. The COVID-19 pandemic had put a damper on the local National Night Out festivities the last two years, but it returned to true form in a major way in 2023 with essentially a block party on 14th Street between 25th and 26th avenues.
Organized by the Columbus Police Department, the event also featured the Columbus Fire Department, Columbus-Platte County Joint Communications Center, Platte County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol interacting with community members and offering up various games and activities.
Joining them were representatives from Columbus Community Hospital, Columbus Area United Way, Centro Hispano, East-Central District Health Department, Center for Survivors, Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition and AT&T.
“It’s always great to see the community come together. It’s great seeing all the kids,” Columbus Police Sgt. Jaymee Levander said. “This gives us an opportunity to be out in the community. I think this is great for both the community and all our departments here.”
A couple of hundred people stopped through to connect with the various community and law enforcement agencies. CPD had a game where kids could toss plastic doughnuts into the mouth of a police officer made of wood, embracing the general stereotype that law enforcement officers enjoy a sweet treat now and then. They also had a CPD backdrop ready for people wanting selfies.
CPD officers and members of their families were on hand talking with attendees, visibly enjoying the conversations with the public and showing off some squad cars. Columbus Police Capt. Doug Molczyk spent some time on the grill preparing hot dogs for families to enjoy. He was joined by Mayor Jim Bulkley for a few minutes.
“It’s great to get all of our first responders out and have them remind the public we’re here to serve them. We’re their friends,” Bulkley said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Down the block, CFD officials had a couple of fire trucks and their signature splash pad for kids to enjoy. Despite the overcast weather, plenty of kids weren’t shy about running through for a quick cooldown.
“It’s always nice to get out and about in our community,” Assistant Fire Chief Nate Jones said. “And it’s always nice to be out interacting with the police department and other law enforcement like this.”
Nebraska State Patrol had a setup demonstrating the importance of wearing your seat belt, while the various community agencies had all sorts of information and goodies for attendees.
Of course, National Night Out wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of several local sponsors: Hy-Vee, Super Saver, Erica Zywiec – exp Realty and Logan Bronson – RE/MAX Total Realty.
Levander said she was appreciative of all of the various agencies and sponsors who helped make National Night Out possible.
“Partnerships make things successful,” she said. “Everyone is out here having fun. This is a good opportunity for all of us.”
The mayor said he was glad to see so many people in attendance, but added he hopes it’s just the beginning.
“I’d like to see it become even bigger,” Bulkley said. “Anything we can do to get the community to feel more comfortable with all of our first responders is always a great thing. They’re here to help.”