Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Ginger Cato, left, and Denise Benton, right, of Catholic Charities.
Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara poses with Dance Force.
Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Amsterdam Firefighters Paul Daw, left, and Tim Miller, right.
Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Bryanna Nelson works on a project.
By CASEY CROUCHER
Tuesday's National Night Out wasn't just an opportunity for children to jump around in bounce houses, get free candy or meet new friends -- it was an opportunity to learn about local law enforcement.
People of all ages went to Veterans Park in Amsterdam to celebrate National Night Out, a national event that celebrates the growth of police-community partnerships, and the prevention of crime.
"This event helps enhance community involvement," Amsterdam Police Sgt. John Thomas said. "It helps people meet members of the police and fire departments so they can feel comfortable with us during emergencies."
Thomas said children are often frightened by police officers because parents tell children to behave or "the officer will arrest him or her."
"That sends the wrong message to kids," he said. "We want kids to trust us and feel comfortable so that in times of emergency they'll know who to go to. This event lets us interact with the kids and make that possible."
National Night Out was started in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch as a promotional effort to get communities involved in crime and violence prevention, help improve community-police relationships in neighborhoods, and let criminals know that residents are "fighting back," according to the NATW website.
Ginger Cato, community educator and assistant program director for Catholic Charities' domestic violence services, said her program is centered around anti-violence.
"My program centers around anti-domestic and anti-crime violence in Montgomery County," Cato said. "This event is just wonderful because it gets people out of their houses, doing something healthy and they're provided with information that could really help them in the future -- who to contact in emergencies, who to talk to with problems -- this really helps."
Assemblyman Angelo Santa-barbara, D-Rotterdam, who made an appearance at Tuesday's event, said National Night Out is important for communities in the region because residents can "speak out against crime."
"Whether it's a parade or a little festival like today," he said, "it's important to remember the meaning behind the event, and to remember that communities can fight back against crime and violence and today we're celebrating that."
Aside from the educational aspect, residents enjoyed three different bounce houses, free admission to the city pool, craft projects, music and the screening of a movie.
"Today's been great," Samantha Bonanno, assistant to the city's recreation director, said. "The recreation department put this together with the help of the Amsterdam Police Department and it's really doing what we intended it to do."
Bonanno said the goals were to heighten awareness of violence and crime in the area but also give children activities.
"All in all everything worked out perfectly," she said.