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National Night Out attracts hundreds
Megan Watson struggles to complete the driving course wearing special goggles with Gainesville Police Officer Dallas Bright during National Night Out at Memorial Park North Riverside Chapel Tuesday evening.

For 6-year-old Marshall Carrier, it was “the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.”

The landing of a medical helicopter outside Memorial Park North Riverside Chapel was just one spectacle that captivated youngsters at Tuesday’s National Night Out.

They crawled into fire engines, posed for pictures with SWAT gear, peered into ambulances and pet police dogs. Older kids tried their hand wearing the “drunk goggles” and driving a winding obstacle course in an electric car.

The National Night Out is a partnership between public safety agencies and the public to promote community interaction between the two. Tuesday’s event was held at thousands of locations across the country.

At Memorial Park’s event, 40 exhibitors and officers from eight public safety agencies were on hand, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Flowery Branch Police Department, Georgia State Patrol and Hall County Fire Services. With an array of vehicles and gear on display, it was the closest to an open house that most police, fire and emergency services could have.

“People can come out and know what their (public safety) resources are,” said Billy Hendrix of Memorial Park, the event’s primary organizer. “We’re proud to be a sponsor and host of National Night Out.”

The first year the event was held in Gainesville, it flopped, with virtually no turnout. Last year hundreds showed up, and Tuesday’s bustling attendance was a repeat of that successful showing.

Kelly Attaway brought her 5-year-old son to introduce him to the men and women who serve and protect.

“It’s good to get out there and meet everyone and for the kids to know their friendly people,” said.

Officer Joe Britte, the Gainesville Police Department’s Crime Prevention and Community Relations Officer, said the National Night Out was a great way to promote neighborhood watches and give folks crime prevention tips.

“This is what policing is all about,” Britte said. “Without the community, we’re basically nothing.”

Hall County Sheriff’s Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks called it “a true partnership.”

“We rely on the public in everything we do,” Wilbanks said.

Beverly Garrett, who brought her 4- and 6-year-old great-grandchildren to the event, said they were “amazed.”

“This is really wonderful,” Garrett said. “It’s informative. It really is good to get a better feel for what they do.”