Three-year-old Jerry Foster was dressed as a police officer when his parents brought him to the Aug. 2 “community block party” in Whitmore Park for a National Night Out celebration designed to bring the community together and reduce local crime. The boy loves to watch the TV show COPS and is into all things police but when he was encouraged to approach police motorcycles and big burly officers standing by them, he had a meltdown faster than butter on a hot skillet.
Eventually he summoned the courage to approach Sgt. Travis Hudson, who sat down on his heels, and offered a reflective police badge sticker. It was just one of the interactions between Ceres Police officers and the public from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The community event featured free food, displays of police vehicles, and games for kids as well as a canine attack demonstration.
Members of Valley Christian Center provided water balloons and free face painting for the kids, which made a lot of them smile.
“That's why we came out – to bring some happiness to somebody,” said Pastor Chris Henry. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it when each kid would look at the mirror and smile and wiggle with joy.”
Employees from the Ceres Home Depot store offered crafts for families to assemble, which brought out Tom Moody and his children, Kayla and John.
Members of the Ceres Earthquakes also assisted in the event.
National Night Out is held annually in most cities to focus on community crime prevention.
Police Chief Rick Collins commented that the event was a great success.
Parked for viewing were a myriad of police vehicles, including two traffic motorcycles, the Ceres Police SWAT vehicle, nicknamed "the Bear," the code enforcement trailer, the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Unit vehicle, the Police Mobile Command Post. Ceres Fire Department, which is operated by Modesto Fire, had units on hand for viewing.
The donation of hot dogs cooked by members of the Ceres Lions Club also helped draw the public to the event.
The presence of police canines drew a lot of interest.
Before 6 p.m. the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helicopter made wide circles over the park, surprising many with its emergency siren that could be heard loud and clear from the distance of hundreds of feet overhead.
Chief Collins was pleased with the outcome of the event.
“For the first time in at least a decade or more, we had the largest turn out for this event,” said Collins, who also heard from others that the attendance was greatly increased than in the past. “What stood out was seeing all the smiling faces from the community and city personnel. They were genuinely having a good time. The addition of a variety of foods, sweets, and activities brought a positive vibe. It was also nice to have a variety of music playing during the event.”
The event also drew the greatest participation of Ceres police as well.
“Another thing that stood out was the participation from so many sponsors who helped make our event a success,” said Collins. “Watching all of the city staff engage with the community was pleasant as well. There were people everywhere taking pictures to create memories.”
Members of Valley Christian Center kept hearing folks ask, “Wow, is all this stuff free?” One of the Ceres police officers explained, “This is just our way of getting people out of their homes and meeting their neighbors.”
“I’d say he nailed it because we got to meet so many people that we didn't even know live in Ceres,” said Henry. “We may have worked with them or done some kind of business with them in the past, but we never realized they lived a few streets over.”
The pastor said he got to reacquaint with Sgt. Danny Vierra and his sons Mike and Mathew who are also Ceres Police officers.
“We had met before when we prayed over several of the officers at a past church service. It was good to reconnect and see the community come together in a positive way and rally around the guys who protect us.”
Henry commented that Ceres is “filled with a lot of great people. I’m lucky enough that some of the great people come to my church each week. But tonight, I got to meet so many more of those great Ceres folks.”