Normal Park will showcase the third annual “Community Night Out” from 5-8 PM this evening, sponsored by the Merrill Police Department and Merrill Fire Department.
In its inaugural year of 2012, the event was organized and sponsored solely by Chief Ken Neff and the Merrill Police Department. However as Neff explains, the Merrill Fire Department and other area agencies took an immediate interest in connecting with their local community as well.
“When we organized the first event back in 2012, I had approached Chief Savone as well as other agencies about participating,” Neff said.
“Chief had experience with similar activities with his previous department and was very interested in participating in community events, so he was all-in for the idea. Last year, he and the fire department became even more involved, so this year we decided to partner up in sponsoring Community Night Out.”
Along with police and fire equipment on display as in years past, tonight’s event will have a few new looks including a vehicle extrication demonstration by the Merrill Fire Department, staff and equipment from the Merrill Water Utility, free rides from the Merrill-Go-Round as well as a newly designed demonstration by the Merrill Police Department’s K9 unit.
According to Neff, the department recently purchased a “bite suit” which consists of a padded, full body suit and is used to keep Officer ‘Eros’ sharp with his apprehension skills.
“The suit basically makes the person wearing it look like the Michelin man,” Neff jokes with a smile. “During tonight’s demo, another officer will be wearing the suit so visitors will be treated to Eros performing a few take downs.”
The “Fit for Duty Challenge” will be another added feature by the police department. The department first ran the Fit for Duty Challenge this spring at the Children’s Expo and was a big hit amongst area youngsters.
“The Fit for Duty Challenge is an obstacle course set up to challenge kids to climb over objects and drag objects, “ Neff adds. “It’s a fun way for us to emphasize healthy activity and physical fitness.”
Tokens will then be handed out to course participants.
In years past the theme of the event had been based around community policing and the department’s Crime Prevention Initiative, however tonight the two sponsoring departments will be working together to bring a historical theme to the event by showcasing historical information and artifacts pertaining to department histories.
“We are hoping for another great turnout” Neff said
“The first year we estimated right around 300 visitors. We purchased 300 hot dogs that year and ran out. Then last year we purchased 500 hot dogs and we ran out then too! So even though we ran out of hot dogs before the event was over, that tells us the number of visitors has been growing every year, which is great!”
As the chief alluded to, officers of the Merrill Police Department in coordination with Dave’s County Market, will once again be serving free hot dogs to event visitors.
“I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback every year,” Neff said when asked of visitor turnout over the last few years. “Each year both visitors and participants tell me they are looking forward to the next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for the community and agencies to get involved with other organizations they may not normally speak with such as the DNR, Wisconsin State Patrol or Department of Justice, to name a few.
“It’s a Great way to experience the variety of services the city has to offer,” Neff adds.
Other agencies participating in this event include the Wisconsin Department of Justice Mobile Crime Lab, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Merrill Parks and Recreation, Merrill Community Enrichment Center, Wisconsin State Patrol, Wisconsin DNR, T.B Scott Library, Merrill Street Department, Merrill Water Utility, Lincoln County Crime Stoppers, NTC Center for Excellence, Lincoln County Health Dept., the Merrill Transit System, and more.
Free food will be available including hot dogs, watermelon, shaved ice, strawberry shortcake, popcorn and Merrill Transit will be running busses all evening at no cost to the rider. If bus rides to and from the event are desired, call 715-536-7112.