August 6 will bring two community events to Smyth County aimed at fostering police-community relationships and partnerships.
The Marion Police Department and the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office will each host National Night Out events in Marion and Chilhowie.
“National Night Out really is just for people to come out, meet the police and talk about things going on in their neighborhoods,” said Smyth County Sheriff Chip Shuler. “It gives the community a chance to meet the police in a positive way.”
“It’s a way to engage citizens in the community with officers on a more face-to-face level,” said Marion Police Lt. Rusty Hamm, who helped organize the Marion event.
Both agencies have toyed with the idea of hosting the event in previous years. This year, they decided to make it happen. The Marion event was planned at the urging of Officer Jeff Horn and organized by Lts. Hamm and Andrew Moss and Chief John Clair, among other officers.
“Now that we’ve moved and got a new building and we want to showcase the facility, it seemed like a really good opportunity to launch the effort,” Clair said.
The Marion event will take place at the police department located on Park Street. That portion of the road will be closed during the event.
At Marion’s event, community members will get a chance to check out police equipment, tour the new facility and chat with those charged with protecting and serving their neighborhoods. Weather permitting, a landing of a Wings Air Rescue helicopter is also planned.
Inflatable bounce houses and other activities will be available to children during the Night Out. With a bicycle safety theme, the Marion agency is partnering with the Marion Walmart and Ballad Health to provide bicycle helmets to all kids 12 and under. Following a helmet fitting, children will get the chance to have an officer coach them on bicycle safety through an obstacle course of sorts. Those who participate in the course will be entered to win a new bicycle.
“It’s so important for our kids to know the basics of bicycle safety, and it’s a great way for us to engage the parents and guardians in us all working toward a safer community,” Clair said.
In other efforts to support Marion’s youth, the department is also working with community members to help provide school supplies for the coming school year. Supplies can be dropped off at the PD anytime before or during the event.
Over at the Chilhowie Town Park, the Sheriff’s Office’s shindig will also include inflatables, as well as a waterslide. There, community members will get to check out police equipment and vehicles, look at local race cars, watch K9 demonstrations and jam out to music provided by DanJoe Music for the Community.
“I hope we get a big turnout and people will come and see what we’re doing,” Shuler said.
Clair hopes for the same. He and the other organizers also hope the event will spark interest in launching community groups like Neighborhood Watches in various neighborhoods throughout the town. Such groups help provide cohesion between individual neighborhoods, Clair said.
“We want to identify members of the community who would be willing to be neighborhood leaders where they live,” Clair said. “Right now we have two community group contacts. I want to walk away with 10 community group contacts.”
Community Resource Officer Jason Horner will be on site with information on the Neighborhood Watch program.
Hamm, who doubles as a firefighter with Marion Fire-EMS, said that many emergency management planners are taking what they call a “whole community approach.” He pointed out that the entire Smyth County community and its partners have come together to efforts to address the county’s drug problem.
“This is that effort to bring the community together from the top to the bottom,” he said.
Officers with the Virginia State Police, Hungry Mother State Park Police, Chilhowie and Saltville police departments, and other agencies have also been invited to the events.
Both events kick off at 6 p.m. Food and refreshments will be provided.