MERIDEN — Seven-year-old Dominic Giannone was amazed at how heavy the 45-pound bulletproof vest felt draped over his shoulders.
“Word on the street is it weighs as much as you,” Giannone’s mother, Lisa, joked.
Dominic dreams of becoming a SWAT team officer, his mom said. On Tuesday, he got to try on the vest at a booth set up by the Police Department at the city’s annual National Night Out event.
“He comes up to these guys every year. Since he was little, he’s wanted to do SWAT,” his mother said.
Thousands of residents came together at Hubbard Park for the 15th annual National Night Out. Municipalities all over the country participate in the event, held the first Tuesday of August, to promote positive interactions and relationships between citizens and law enforcement. The free event is organized each year by the Police Department and the city’s Council of Neighborhoods, with sponsorship from local several businesses and organizations. This year’s event included music, raffles, food and drinks, public safety demonstrations, and booths set up by local civic groups.
“It’s so important because it really enhances the partnership between the Police Department and our residents,” said Holly Wills, president of the Council of Neighborhoods.
Allowing residents to interact with officers in a relaxed, friendly environment makes them more likely to trust officers in the field, said patrol officer Dan Remeika, who worked a booth set up by the Police Department.
Trust and open communication between residents and law enforcement is more important than ever, Mayor Kevin Scarpati said, given the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said the National Night Out event is also “a chance to say, ‘thank you’” to police officers.
“They put us first. They leave their families, and they go into harm’s way,” Blumenthal said.
More than 70 civic organizations showcased themselves with booths at the event, Wills said.
Mary Oates, program director for Girls Inc., said having a booth at National Night Out allows the nonprofit to advertise its services to a wider audience and also network and share referrals with local groups.
“This opens us up to people that are outside of Meriden,” she said.