ROTTERDAM – Hunter Navratil took a step forward and chucked the ball at the bullseye, hitting it – but just not hard enough. After a few more tries he finally watched his dad, Rotterdam Officer Joshua Navratil, plummet into the water.
As Hunter walked away his dad got back up on the seat ready for the next person in the long line of waiting participants.
The dunk tank was just one of several activities that people enjoyed during the Rotterdam Police Department’s National Night Out event.
The department had held the event for four years before COVID hit and canceled last year’s plans. With COVID emergency declarations gone, people turned out in droves – at least 200 people – to partake in the festivities.
This was the first time Melissa Osborne and Anthony Nischo were out as a family with their 7-month-old baby, Logan Nischo. Osborne said they’ve been to past events, but now they got to show their son all the fire trucks and police cars.
“My boyfriend is part of Carmen Fire District,” Osborne said, looking over at Logan in the driver’s seat of a South Schenectady rig.
On the opposite side of the Rotterdam Youth Fields, where the event was being held, Jackson Bleau was getting his fingers nibbled on by a baby goat. He was shocked to see them eating right out of his hand.
He was there with his brother Nick, sister Natalie, and mom and dad, Amber and P.J. Bleau. Although the family moved from Latham to Rotterdam about a year ago this was their first real big outing.
“We haven’t done anything because everything has been closed because of COVID,” Amber Bleau said.
But on Tuesday they got to run around enjoying a rock climbing wall, bouncy house and more.
Amber Bleau said she loved that the department was putting on the event.
“It’s wonderful,” Bleau said. “It shows that they care. It’s a good opportunity for our kids to meet the police and know they’re there to help.”
Not far from them Gavin Major was making his way through an obstacle course Crunch Fitness was hosting at its tent.
“Anything fitness he wants to do,” said mom Amy Major.
She said he had already climbed the rock wall.
The family came out to support the department, Amy Major said.
“We live in a neighborhood where there is an officer parked there all the time,” she said, noting the officer is always friendly.
Rotterdam Police Chief Michael Brown was glad the department could host the event again this year, noting several officers in the department came asking a few months ago if they could put it on.
“It’s important for us to have the opportunity to foster and build relationships in the community,” Brown said.
He said this opportunity comes at a time when there is still a lot of mistrust and uneasiness with police officers following months of protests over police brutality.
He said he wanted tonight to show community members that “it’s OK to walk up to us and talk to us.”
He said there are plans to restart previous community engagement activities following cancellations due to the pandemic. Some of those events include coffee with a cop, the criminal justice club and giving out turkeys for Thanksgiving.