New London police, children gather for National Night Out

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New London — When police Officer Max Bertsch started knocking on doors in the Crystal Avenue and Laurel Drive areas this week, he was first met with some raised eyebrows.

“What’s wrong?” Bertsch said was a common response when people saw the uniform.

But to the relief of many, the door-to-door initiative was an attempt to get more New London school students involved in this year’s National Night Out event.

Bertsch, joined by Citizens on Patrol President Carl Lee, handed out permission slips and let families know that two buses supplied by the school district would be taking kids to and from Ocean Beach Park for an evening of “free, safe fun.”

Bertsch, the longtime school resource officer, said the effort paid off with an estimated 250 children participating in this year’s event — mingling with the dozen police officers on hand and partaking in various activities, including free rides supplied by the park.

Bertsch said the national media continues to paint police officers in a negative light. Since the event has only been held sporadically in New London through the years, he thought this was a good year to “do it right.”

“We’re here to tell these kids we’re not the bad guys. We became police officers to help people,” Bertsch said. “What we’re doing here is an effort to promote community relations. Our message is … we’re fathers, mothers, coaches. We’re in the community.”

Behind Bertsch at the entrance to the park several groups of children took tours of the “central command” van while Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard hoisted a child onto a police all-terrain vehicle.

Six-year-old Reggie fiddled with the sirens while on top of the police motorcycle, forcing some onlookers nearby to cover their ears.

Reggie’s mother, Pamela, said the event it was a good opportunity for people to build relationships with the police, adding, “That’s important.” Reggie, like dozens of others wore a “NLPD” T-shirt provided with registration to the event, which was open to New London school students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Bertsch said this year’s event was a true collaborative effort between police and the school district, which had about 30 volunteers at the event and helped fund the night’s activities through a Project Prevent grant.

Other sponsors included the local police union, the Kiwanis Club of New London and the Boys and Girls Club of New London.

“All of these different organizations are coming together for the best interest of the kids,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch said the interactions will also pay dividends by helping kids build relationships with police officers who they may never had a chance to meet unless it was under some type of emergency or criminal situation.

National Night Out is a national event hosted in thousands of communities nationwide and promoted by the national Association of Town Watch as a community-building campaign to promotes police and community partnerships.

The Norwich Police Department and its Community Policing Unit held its 32nd annual National Night Out at the Shop Rite Supermarket Parking Lot.

 g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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