GREENFIELD — Avery Taylor can’t decide if he wants to be a police officer or a firefighter.
The 7-year-old gazed around in wonder as he wove his way through the sea of police cars and fire engines on display in Riley Park during the county’s inaugural block party Tuesday night. Lights flashed around him, and every now and then, a siren gave a friendly whoop.
The event, jointly hosted by the Greenfield Police Department, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and Greenfield Fire Territory, was intended to serve as a county-wide outreach night, planned in the wake of two fatal shootings — one in Texas and one in Louisiana — that targeted police and heightened tensions between officers and the public.
Hundreds turned out to participate in the community night. And, after climbing out of the armored truck the local S.W.A.T. team takes on calls, Avery told his mother, Jeanin Taylor of Greenfield, he’d made a career choice — for now.
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“A police officer,” he proclaimed as his mother laughed.
County officials came together to plan a cookout and family-friendly activity night in the park, hoping to bolster relationships between public safety officers and the community members they serve. That feeling of togetherness was certainly present, but there was something else in the air Tuesday night no one in law enforcement had predicted, Greenfield Police Department Chief John Jester said.
As they served hot dogs, handed out goodies and let little ones like Avery climb through the firetrucks and squad cars, those in uniform kept hearing the same message: “Thank you for all you do.”
The event was planned as a way for firefighters and police officers to give back to the community; to come together under positive circumstances rather than in the midst of trouble or tragedy, organizers said.
But those grateful sentiments were a reward they hadn’t anticipated, Jester said.
Rob Zemlick of Greenfield made an effort to shake of the hand every police officer and firefighter at the block party. As he did so, he handed each official a token of his gratitude, a keepsake patch stitched with public safety cartoons.
Zemlick said he was inspired to give back to the officers after hearing details of the two attacks on police in July, one in Dallas that left five dead and another in Baton Rouge that killed three.
Zemlick said he wanted the county’s police officers to know citizens value officers, even if it might not always feel like it.
“I wanted them to know people appreciated them and to tell them they were fighting the good fight for good reason,” he said.
“They’re people,” he added. “Not just a badge and a uniform.”
Families of law enforcement officers appreciated the show of support as well, Tiffany Dixon said.
Her husband, Jeff Dixon, serves on the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and is also a Greenfield firefighter. She often shakes her head when she hears the negative comments people make about public safety officers, she said, but Tuesday’s event served as a reminder many people are thankful for the work her husband does each day.
Those who attended the block party were treated to presentations of police and fire procedures, including demonstrations by K9 and S.W.A.T. teams. Organizers hoped the demonstrations would give the community a better understanding of what police officers and firefighters do every day.
These interactions also helped officers connect with residents on a more personal, social level than they are usually able to do when working, said Gene Bryant, a firefighter-paramedic for the Greenfield Fire Department.
Law enforcement leaders say they were pleasantly surprised by how popular the community night turned out to be, and they plan to make the county-wide events annual gatherings.
Previous efforts were limited to small neighborhoods, but inviting all county residents to celebrate evoked a sense of community.
“I think doing it this way made it bigger and better,” Jester said.