PILOT MOUNTAIN — A local version of National Night Out brought hundreds of people to downtown Pilot Mountain Tuesday to enjoy free food and entertainment, but perhaps more importantly a positive interaction with law enforcement officers.
“Every time the community runs into us, it’s probably a bad day for somebody,” town Police Chief Darryl Bottoms said during a brief break from cooking on a grill set up in the parking lot of the Pilot Mountain Town Hall and Police Department.
But Tuesday night, no arrests were being made or tickets given out — only plates of hot dogs with all the trimmings along with chips and drinks. Music from a DJ filled the air and an atmosphere of fellowship prevailed as local residents mingled with law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel from across Surry County.
“It lets everybody see we’re not all bad guys,” Chief Bottoms said of the event.
The annual National Night Out celebration, which was being hosted locally by Pilot Mountain for about the 10th year, began in the U.S. in 1984 to increase awareness about law enforcement programs in communities.
While Pilot Mountain, and Surry County for that matter, is fortunate to not have the major crime problems as urban areas, it does have its share.
The Pilot Mountain police chief said his biggest concern is drugs, especially the prescription variety due to their accessibility, and Mayor Earl Sheppard added break-in and theft incidents to the list.
“We, of course, have traffic violations like everybody else does,” Sheppard said.
National Night Out is an opportunity for the public to come out, see officers as human beings and hopefully build a rapport to help prevent major crimes or better cooperate with investigators if they do occur.
“When you can go up and talk to them at a social event, it sure does make it easier,” the mayor said.
Local citizens seemed to make the most of that opportunity Tuesday. Though held in Pilot Mountain, the gathering had a countywide flavor with the presence of officers from around the area.
“I think it is good for the people to meet the officers and have good public relations with them,” John Riggs of Mount Airy, owner of Pilot Mountain Guns and Ammo on West Main Street, said as his son Colton, 2, patted a beagle brought to the event by Surry County Animal Control.
“Not just in bad situations,” Riggs added.
There was plenty of entertainment to be had Tuesday night, including watching local dignitaries such as Sheriff Graham Atkinson take their turns at a dunking booth.
As they munched hot dogs from a row of tables, attendees also seemed appreciative of performances by members of Dance Works Studio of Mount Airy, and karate demonstrations by King’s Martial Arts. And a race car from Ultimate Towing and Recovery was on display.
Tuesday’s event had an educational tone as well, with public safety workers passing out information and the DWI peddle car from the Mount Airy Police Department allowing riders to experience the sensation of being impaired.
The evening got off to a good start with a rousing rendition of the national anthem by local singer Betty Tilley, a contestant of the “Showville” television series featured on the AMC cable network last year.
And everyone seemed to consider the 2014 edition of National Night Out a success here.
“It’s the biggest crowd we’ve had,” Mayor Sheppard said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.