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Night of fun, food and education

September 18, 2012

Sgt. Brad Balaska watches as Nappanee Police Reserves officer Seth Watkins (in full bite suit) gets a piece of what K-9 Hess has to offer those that are threatening to him. Photo by Angel Perkins

NAPPANEE — Nappanee’s West Side Park was the place to be for fun, food, and education Sept. 4 as many gathered for the annual Nappanee Neighborhood Watch celebration.
The city-wide Night Out Against Crime expresses community partnership not only from the local crime enforcers and their advocates but for strengthening the partnerships between the Nappanee public, Neighborhood Watch members, and local and area officers and firefighters. Agencies participating included the Nappanee Police Department and Reserves, Nappanee Fire Department, Crime Stoppers, the Indiana State Police, Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, Elkhart County Drug Free Partnership and TRIAD.
Local Watch members organize the event to bring the community together to thank, feed and educate them. Information pamphlets and other various safety handouts warned people about drug abuse, domestic violence, tornadoes, peer pressure, identity theft, seat belt and Internet safety, and senior scams. More fun handouts included items such as pens, plastic balls and key chains for the public to enjoy.
But it was the never-ending line of free hot dogs, drinks, cookies, chips and snow-cones that kept everyone happy.
Bonnie Hochstetler, local Neighborhood Watch president said, “We enjoy doing this for the community and getting the people to interact with the police.” “We normally have a couple hundred people show up,” she explained. “We started (the local Neighborhood Watch) in 1996 and we’ve had it (the Night Out) every year. We used to hold it the first Saturday in August but we changed it to September so we can get a bigger turnout and better weather.”
Watch Treasurer Terry Slagle said the group usually offers 300 to 400 hot dogs each year and that the food is purchased through donations.
The local Neighborhood Watch organization is also run primarily through donations and there are presently 12 active members that meet Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. (To learn more contact the Nappanee Police Department at 574-773-4111.)
Other highlights of the annual event included demonstrations of the Elkhart Bomb Squad’s robot, the drunk, impaired and distracted driving simulators offered by the Elkhart County Drug Free Partnership and the local law enforcement talents of Hess the Nappanee Police Department K-9.
Ed Windbigler of the Elkhart County Drug Free Partnership (ECDFP) said this year was the first time the organization had been to the Nappanee event. He said the display of empty plastic pop bottles with tin foil and boxes of cold medicine were visual examples that the public needs to watch out for when thinking about picking up litter. “We try to show them what to avoid so they aren’t picking up meth trash,” Windbigler said.
One of the two machines the ECDFP displayed for use was computer screen showing people how much attention they need to be paying when behind the wheel. Those that watched the video were given a prize for taking the time to do so.
Another set of screens with a steering wheel attached simulated a driving experience that taught the “drivers” a bit about hazards as well.
“It’s designed to demonstrate how using our phone or texting is such a simple but dangerous distraction,” Windbigler said. “They think for just a couple seconds they can take their eyes off the road but then a deer runs out. Another serious distraction is just another passenger talking to you, keeping your attention.”
Sergeant Trent Smith, PIO (public information officer) for the Indiana State Police said that the ECDFP’s goal is to offer and make people aware of resources that can help them with their or their loved one’s struggle with drug abuse.
Governor Evan Bayh established the Governor’s Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana in 1989 to help fight drug abuse and that same year, Elkhart County’s Local Coordinating Council was established (as were 91 additional coordinating councils in Indiana) to collaborate with the governor’s commission.
“We’re trying to be more involved in the community and get the word out that there are programs for those that have a problem with drugs and those that might have a family member involved with drugs,” he said. “The partnership is formed of community members representing a multi-disciplinary approach to substance abuse. It’s where prevention, treatment and criminal justice join to educate the public.”
Sgt. Smith said that while all drugs are under the umbrella of being addressed or used illegally, locally, methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse are by far the most prominent substances being abused.
A demonstration that had all the attendees’ attention was given by Nappanee’s police K-9 Hess — with the help of his handler and partner Sgt. Brad Balaska and Nappanee Police Reserves officer Seth Watkins (as potential “bad guy”). In a full bite-suit, Watkins stood by Sgt. Balaska as they portrayed a dangerous situation.
From about 10 yards away spectators could hear Hess whining and barking to get at the “perpetrator” and when Sgt. Balaska used his a remote device to open the back door of his police car, Hess bounded out and sunk his teeth into Watkins. It took only a couple seconds for Hess to begrudgingly release his “chew toy” and lie patiently at Sgt. Balaska’s side.
Then, slapping his tail on the ground with his tongue hanging out, the proud pooch awaited his reward for having his partner’s back … a tennis ball.
Hess is the Nappanee Police Department’s fourth police K-9 and each has been retired at about five years. Hess has been serving at Sgt. Balaska’s side, taking down suspects and identifying cocaine, meth and heroin, for about two-and-a-half years.
Another non-human law enforcement tool enjoyed by those present was the Elkhart Police Department bomb squad’s robot — a $185,000 machine purchased in 2004 primarily through a federal grant. The machine is controlled by remote and can x-ray and open a device or package and allows authorities to visually inspect the contents via a lens where it’s safe for it’s operator, sometimes perched more than a mile away.
Frank Thomas, commander of the Elkhart Police Department’s EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) Unit said his team, including the robot, will travel to other locations in Indiana for service as there are only 12 bomb squads in the state — South Bend’s being the closest.
The event wasn’t all about education, appreciation, fun and food though. Attendees were asked to bring at least one non-perishable food item to be (equally distributed) between local food banks at FCDC and Open Door.

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