Modesto safety fair mission: forge connection

kvaline@modbee.comJune 14, 2014 

Scores of families turned out Saturday at Graceada Park for the Modesto Police Department’s first community safety fair, in which kids watched motorcycle cops show off their skills, had pictures taken with police horses and watched police dog Kai and his handler demonstrate how to subdue a bad guy.

Police spokeswoman Heather Graves said the department has participated in safety fairs put on by other organizations, but Saturday was the first time the department had held its own event. The department pulled out all the stops, offering a full complement of free activities for fairgoers.

The fair was from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and about 300 people had attended by 12:30.

The event is part of the department’s effort to forge closer ties with the community and teach children that officers are their allies. Moms and dads talked with officers while their kids scrambled in and out of police vehicles, including the department’s armored special weapons and tactics vehicle, and tried on police gear. Kids petted Kai and quarter horses Dakota and Able, two members of the department’s equestrian unit.

“It’s good for kids to see cops as people, too,” said Officer Ben Chavez, who was handing out grilled turkey hot dogs provided by the Modesto Police Officers Association. The American Red Cross – which had a table at the fair – provided the bottled water to wash down the turkey dogs.

The fair included representatives from Stanislaus Regional 911, the Modesto Police Canine Association, the Police Explorers – which is for young people interested in a law enforcement career – American Medical Response, Crime Stoppers and the Modesto Regional Fire Authority, which brought a fire engine.

The Police Department divided the city into four quadrants in May 2013 and assigned a lieutenant to oversee each one to make the department more accountable and strengthen the connection between officers and the people they protect. Saturday’s fair was in the northwest quadrant, which is overseen by Lt. Brian Findlen. He said the department plans to hold more safety fairs in its other quadrants.

The department already had some converts before the fair.

Elisa Lotko said her 11-year-old son, Julian, wants to be a police officer when he grows up. She said her 8-year-old son, Enrique, wants to be a firefighter, and the two boys are trying to convince their 2-year-old sister, Selena, to become a paramedic so they can be a family of first responders.

“It’s fun, the cops,” Julian said when asked what he liked about the safety fair. “I like the police. I want to be a cop when I’m older.”

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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