HAVERHILL — National Night Out offered hundreds of residents plenty of fun Tuesday evening, promoting public safety by building stronger relationships between first responders and the people they serve and protect.
Police Chief Alan DeNaro, Fire Chief William Laliberty and many of the officers and firefighters they lead enjoyed socializing with people of all ages.
Capt. Stephen Doherty, spokesman for the Haverhill Police Department, said the celebration gives officers the chance to mingle with people "in a non-enforcement role."
Deputy Police Chief Anthony Haugh estimated this year's Night Out drew as many as 1,500 people.
"It allows residents to see us as regular people," Laliberty said. The smoke house staffed by his department was a popular draw, especially for the younger children.
As the house filled with simulated smoke, they exited quickly.
"Our goal is to keep people safe," Laliberty said.
A K-9 demonstration by the Essex County Sheriff's Department delighted dozens of people.
Demos, a black German shepherd, seized Sgt. Leonardo Jorge of the Sheriff's Department by his arm when given the command. Jorge, a Marine veteran who is built like a linebacker, was able to stay on his feet while Demos grabbed him. He wore a protective covering on the arm that Demos snatched, however.
Demos also retrieved a cell phone that was hidden in the grass. A dog's sense of smell is many times more powerful than that of a human, Jorge noted.
Members of the Police Department cooked hot dogs and hamburgers for the multitude. The consensus among Doherty and fellow Capts. Michael Wrenn and Robert Pistone was that veteran Detective John Moses was the best cook.
The food that did not get cooked was donated to groups that help people in need, according to DeNaro, who also pointed out that aside from officers' salaries, the city did not spend any money on Night Out.
Money seized from convicted drug dealers helped pay for the evening's activities, he said.
While public safety is the primary objective of National Night Out, other agencies and organizations were also represented at Swasey Field.
Greater Haverhill Community Action Council, led by Executive Director John Cuneo, provided information about its many services, including a new training program for school bus drivers. Community Action also provides English language instruction and adult education.
Janet Begin of Wildflower Schools, which use the Montessori method at three Haverhill locations, told parents and children about what her organization offers.
"Wow, you did it!" she said as a youngster arranged some wooden blocks in descending order of size. That exercise develops visual and spatial ability, she explained.
Luz Andino, of Haverhill, watched as her son, Janiel Rosario, 5, and her niece, Jshany Andino, 6, tried the various exercises Begin had laid out.
"This is a very good opportunity for kids," Andino said of National Night Out.
Several Target employees handed out water and snacks at a booth.
"We are giving back to the community," said Arleen Seabrook, food service team lead at the store.
State Rep. Andy Vargas, D-Haverhill, was, well, all wet. Vargas sat in the dunk tank provided by the Rotary Club.
Ayden Yeo, 14, who is headed for Pentucket Regional High School in a few weeks, threw the dunking pitch. He estimated his throw at 20 mph.
Did he win anything for dunking a state rep?
"Just bragging rights," he said.
In New Hampshire, many communities were also taking part in the national observance, including Derry, where families gathered in MacGregor Park for the weekly summer concert along with activities, games, dancing, face painting and a chance to meet police officers and firefighters.
The Derry effort involved the police, fire and recreation departments. Sue Centner, executive director of Community Alliance for Teen Safety, said Derry hasn't had a National Night Out in many years.
"It's wonderful," Centner said. "The community gets to have conversations with law enforcement."
Police officers Jeff Pike and Erin Sullivan were the driving force, Centner said. Pike and Sullivan are part of the department's community relations efforts.
For Pike, the night meant new information, new faces, and a chance for families and children to meet law enforcement officers they see regularly around town.
"It creates a good rapport with the community," Pike said.
In addition to the music on the park stage, children enjoyed photo opportunities with McGruff the Crime Dog and Sparky the Firefighting Dalmatian.
"It's the first time they've met each other," said fire Lt. Michael Stanhope.
This year, Derry joined many communities throughout New Hampshire in observing National Night Out. Organizers were expecting more than 16,000 communities and 38 million people nationwide to take part in community events on Tuesday.