Block party helps Anderson police officers build rapport with residents

May 12—ANDERSON — Police and city officials greeting residents at the Anderson Police Department's first block party of the season Saturday were there for a simple reason.

"Our motto is connect with a purpose," said Mike Anderson, the department's assistant chief of community policing.

"Let's have a connection with the citizens here and have a purpose behind it. This is why we do these types of events."

The gathering at Walnut Street Park, a few blocks southeast of downtown Anderson, drew hundreds of people, many of whom helped themselves to a complimentary lunch of hot dogs, chips and bottled water.

Several kid-friendly activities, including a bounce house and a small petting zoo, gave the festivities a carnival-like feel.

Members of the department's SWAT team displayed tools including battering rams and a shield, and demonstrated the unit's tactical robot.

"I think it's a good thing to have the kids out here with the police officers so they can get familiar with all the police that's on the force, not only by faces but with names," said Precious Dabney, who lives across the street from the park and brought her two children to the block party.

"It's fun, it's friendly, and it's a good time for the parents and the children."

Other residents said they see value in police officers interacting with them in a casual environment. Getting to know the officers as more than faces with badges, they said, can help people — especially kids — feel more comfortable approaching them with problems.

"If you tend to recognize someone, it might help you de-escalate a situation faster," said Elishia McGruder, who brought two of her clients from Sevita Health, a community services agency that provides long-term residential care for adults with special needs.

"You may feel safe coming to them and letting them know something that you've seen," she continued. "You know them, you've seen them, you see them every time you have a block party, and you feel comfortable talking to them."

Saturday's event was the first of five planned block parties, monthly through September. The events will rotate among parks in several neighborhoods, which officials said will be important to augment Crime Watch programs.

"There's no police department that's big enough to police a community without the public's help," said Anderson Police Chief Mike Lee. "Our Crime Watch program is vital to our mission, and our block parties are directly connected to our Crime Watch program.

"This is an opportunity for us to reach out to these people and let them see us in a different light."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.