By Beth Lawrence

The Sylva Police Department is gearing up for its annual National Night Out block party from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday at Bridge Park.

Local law enforcement groups hold the meet and greet style events to raise their profile in their coverage area.

“It’s important for us to connect with kids in a friendly, happy environment,” said Sgt. Daniel Peoples, organizer of the event. “Often times when kids interact with police officers it’s in a negative aspect. This special event shows children we are their friends and makes them comfortable with us.”

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Western Carolina University Police Department will also participate in the event.

There will be a bike rodeo at 2 p.m. Participants need to bring their bicycles and helmets.

The rodeo is a series of obstacle courses set up for riders to navigate. The event is designed to be fun, but it has a more serious purpose.

“The bike rodeo is an opportunity to learn how to safely handle the bike and learn the rules of the road,” Peoples said.

Winners of the rodeo will receive small prizes for tasks as the event progresses. 

Once the festivities officially begin there will be bounce houses and carnival-style games like the duck pick up and ping-pong ball toss. Competitive games include a potato sack race and cornhole tournament, Peoples said.

Emergency Medical Services will demonstrate hands only CPR. The Mountain Area Medical Airlift (MAMA) helicopter will fly into the event. The fire department will have a ladder truck on hand and will demonstrate fire ladders and hoses.

The Hope Patrol car, a police cruiser painted pink for breast cancer awareness, will also be at the event.

The Bearcat, an armored personnel vehicle, will be available for children to explore.

The department will serve snow cones, popcorn, pizza and chips free of charge.

An outdoor movie showing will follow at 8 p.m.

The first National Night Out was in 1984, according to the organization’s website. An estimated 2.5 million people from 400 communities in 23 states participated. It was the result of collaboration between law enforcement, neighborhood watch groups, civic organizations, and state and local crime prevention groups.

It was created to be a community-building effort to engender positive relationships between law enforcement and the community and bring neighbors together in order to make communities safer.

Today, millions of people participate in National Night Out events every year.

Next week will mark Sylva PD’s fourth consecutive National Night Out, but the department has hosted night out block parties in the past.

About 500 people attended last year’s event, Peoples said.