Pinellas Park comes together for National Night Out

- If you saw all types of law enforcement surrounding the Target in Pinellas Park Tuesday night, don't worry. It was for a good reason.

August 2 was National Night Out. Pinellas Park was one of more than 16,000 cities around the country celebrating the event.

It's a chance to give citizens an up-close look at life behind the badge, to bridge the gap between officers and their communities, and to unite against crime.

Despite the heat, hundreds of people came out. You could find almost every agency from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to Tarpon Springs SWAT team to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Pinellas Park SWAT team demonstrated a tense situation involving a traffic stop and suspects pointing loaded weapons at them.

"Stop the vehicle. Driver, stop the vehicle," an officer said over a loudspeaker. "Show me your hands. Show me your hands."

A K-9 officer chased down one suspect while officers eventually took the other passengers into custody. 

"It's a reenactment of a buy bust that our agency puts on to show folks what our folks deal with on a daily basis," said Sgt. Michael Lynch.

For some departments, the night was also a chance in speak openly with people considering careers in law enforcement and pick up potential recruits.

"We would love to interview anybody and meet anybody that would be willing to give it a shot for the community," said Officer Zak Dorman of Treasure Island Police Department.

It's been a tumultuous year though, with several high-profile police-involved shootings that have sparked emotional protests nationwide. There have also been cases of retaliation with officers being targeted and killed, themselves.

"I know it's a hard time right now," Dorman said. "With them getting to know us on a different level, I think it's a good thing. We are still people and willing to talk and do anything. It's not all about police work. It's about the community itself also."

That's the message agencies hoped to leave people with, no matter what age. River Shaffer sat on the ground in awe as he watched the K-9 demonstration.

"Really funny and cool," Shaffer said. "He's trying to catch him like a Pokemon."

Meanwhile, Nick Reyzin stood close to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office helicopter, dreaming of the day he might take the pilot's seat.

"I want to be a pilot when I grow up. And, seeing helicopters is pretty cool," Reyzin said.

The ultimate goal is unity. It may not be fully achieved with one night out. But, it's a way to get the conversation going.

"We are the community's police," Lynch said. "We are here for them. We serve for them. We want to be here and be able to communicate and talk with them about whatever they want, whether it's a 'hey, how's it going' or just 'how can we help you' type of thing."

This is the 33rd year for National Night Out. It started in 1984 as an effort to bring people out of their homes and onto their porches to take a stand against crime in their communities. In 2016, it's certainly taken on a whole new meaning.

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