National Night Out brings residents and public safety workers together

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Nine-year-old Jaedrick Jennings of Stockbridge was all smiles as he gripped the handlebars on a Henry County Police motorcycle. He and his brother Jaxon, 3, proudly took turns posing for pictures on the bike during this year’s National Night Out festivities in McDonough.

Five-year-old Dakota Southerland of Locust Grove was among the attendees at this year’s National Night Out festivities in McDonough. Photo by Jason A. Smith

The boys’ mother, Crystal Jennings, brought her sons to the event as a way to help them learn more about those who spend their lives protecting and serving their community.

“I think it’s really important to be comfortable with public safety, and to be more educated on what they do,” she says.

Jennings and her family were among hundreds of local residents, police officers, firefighters and emergency-management workers who gathered Aug. 4 at Henry Town Center for the free National Night Out. The event is designed as a way for public-safety agencies in the county, and its four cities, to share information with the public about what they do every day.

Local public-safety agencies have participated in National Night Out for more than a decade, says Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer. He says he appreciates the positive relationship his department has with the community.

“I have been in law enforcement for many years now, and I believe the public does support law enforcement,” says McBray-er. “I hear that every day, and I really believe that to be true.”

The sheriff touched on recent events in areas of the country where tensions are evident between law enforcement and the public. He says while police officers aren’t perfect, they seem to have a good rapport with the majority of residents in Henry County.

“There’s a few people who make noise, but most officers do a good job for the citizens of the community,” says McBrayer.

Other high-ranking public-safety officials were on hand as well at National Night Out. One of them was Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols, who spent a few minutes crouched down with a smile on his face, so he could be at eye level with an unnamed four-year-old girl.

“Her grandmother asked me to talk to her because she was afraid of police officers,” says Nichols.

He adds that National Night Out provides a unique opportunity to interact with the public.

“It gives us an opportunity to interact with folks on an informal basis and show them we’re just like everybody else,” says Nichols. “We have the same dreams and aspirations that every red-blooded American has.”

That sense of camaraderie between law enforcement and the public is what led Rashelle Jones of McDonough to bring her three-year-old son Brandon to National Night Out for the second straight year. She says the occasion shows another side of police officers and firefighters.

“We enjoyed the event last year,” says Jones. “I think it humanizes them. It’s important to show their human side. They’re out here to protect the community.”

Molly Southerland of Locust Grove examined badges and other law-enforcement memorabilia at the Sheriff’s Office’s display table with her five-year-old daughter Dakota. Southerland says supporting public safety is important to her on a personal level, because her husband Chris is a HERO Unit driver for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“I support our local government, and I trust them with everything they do,” says Southerland. “I like to see the community be interactive with public safety, to see what it actually takes to be a police officer.”