PILOT MOUNTAIN — Threatening skies might have kept some of the crowd away, but that did little to quell the sense of community pride on display in Pilot Mountain last night, as law enforcement and emergency services agencies from around the county gathered for this year’s National Night Out.
This year’s Night Out was scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m., but organizers kicked it off about a half hour early due to the rolling clouds and rumbling thunder that threatened a downpour at any moment.
Once again this year, the event was held at the Sandwich Shop, known locally as “The Squeeze Box,” a downtown diner owned by Dickie Crump, who served free hot dogs and drinks throughout the evening to the appreciative crowd.
Crump was helped by members of the Pilot Mountain Masonic Lodge #493 and the Pilot Mountain Order of the Eastern Star #23, help he said was “invaluable.”
“They’ve been very instrumental,” Crump said, “without them, this wouldn’t happen.”
The event is a chance for the public to come out and mingle with law enforcement officers in a positive atmosphere, something that rarely happens throughout the year, officials said.
“This event gives the members of the community the opportunity to come out and meet these officers in a different light,” said Chief Darryl Bottoms of the Pilot Mountain Police Department, the host for the event for the fifth year. “Unfortunately, they often don’t get the chance to see these officers unless they’re having a really bad day.”
And there’s another, added benefit, Bottoms said.
“It also lets the bad guys know that the community is behind us and supports us,” he said.
This year’s event featured displays from Pilot Mountain Rescue and Emergency Medical Services, the Pilot Mountain Police Department, the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care, the North Carolina Alcohol Enforcement Division, Surry County 911 Communications, the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department and the Mount Airy Police Department.
From mobile command units to emergency vehicles and all-terrain vehicles, equipment used daily by law enforcement was on display for public viewing.
Residents coming out for the event also had the chance to try to walk a straight line or drive a pedal car while wearing “Fatal Vision” goggles, that mimic the effects of alcohol on driving and walking a straight line.
“If this is what it feels like to be drunk, I don’t want no part of it,” said one young man as he took off the goggles after nearly falling over trying to walk a straight line.
“And that’s exactly what we want,” a nearby officer replied with a smile.
Always a favorite, the dunking booth had a line throughout the evening, with officers and family members of officers taking their turn in the chair.
Randy Simpson, a sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer at Surry Central High School, said he loves the opportunity to get out and meet the public in a positive atmosphere.
“It’s important for us to be able to mingle with the citizens,” he said. “This enables them to see us in a different light. This isn’t about enforcement or discipline, this is about allowing the community to see us as friends and allies. As someone they can approach.”
Simpson spent his time fingerprinting children in the crowd for Child ID kits, that can be filled out with photos, medical information and personal information including a DNA sample.
“We hope we never have to use them, but if we do, this information can be invaluable,” he said.
Sheriff Graham Atkinson, preparing for his turn in the dunking booth, said the event is a positive for both law enforcement and the public alike.
“I just like to come out and meet and mingle with the people,” he said, looking over the crowd. “Everyone’s relaxed and having a good time.
“And the hot dogs are free!” he said.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.