Sheriff’s summer mission: Giving kids positive contact with law enforcement

Lance Shearer

As hot summer nights go, this one was pretty cool. That was true both in temperature, and what the evening provided for local kids, at the Collier Sheriff’s “Hot Summer Nights” program Thursday at Mackle Park.

With a car thermometer reading 74 degrees at 6:45 p.m., the weather was noticeably mild, making it comfortable not only for the children, but for the two dozen or so sheriff’s deputies, some of them wearing body armor as well as packing their sidearms.

The flipside of that was the cooler temperatures were brought on the wings of a thunderstorm that threatened the island, although it never produced more than a smattering of rain at Mackle. The clouds and thunder kept some kids and their parents from attending, and resulted in some outdoor activities such as the climbing wall never being set up.

KImberley Paulemond, 12, enjoys some fresh popcorn. The Collier Sheriff's Office sponsored "Hot Summer Nights" Thursday evening at Mackle Park, a chance for kids to have fun and interact with law enforcement in a positive way.

The park’s lightning alert monitor went off at 6:03 p.m., just after the event kicked off, with the “all clear” coming at 7:10. Some pickup soccer games proceeded throughout, and small children frolicked in the kids’ castle area, with swings, ladders, monkey bars and play buildings to swarm over.

Under the “air-nasium,” kids shot hoops, bounced up and down inside the cop-car-themed bounce house, and participated in one of the most innovative activities seen recently in kid-tainment, a full-size version of foosball. Like chess boards with humans as the players, this inflatable-walled rectangle replicated a tabletop foosball game, except instead of four-inch plastic figurines, it was actual kids kicking the ball, each holding onto one of the series of rods that crossed the pitch.

Inside the community center, other children played ping pong, pool and regular tabletop foosball, or took a turn playing baseball or other games on the Wii computer console. They enjoyed an endless supply of hotdogs cooked up by the deputies, along with fresh-popped popcorn and enough Sno-Cones to deplete the 50 lbs. of ice the S.O. started with.

Cpl. Perry Mapes mans the grill. The Collier Sheriff's Office sponsored "Hot Summer Nights" Thursday evening at Mackle Park, a chance for kids to have fun and interact with law enforcement in a positive way.

“Those hotdogs are Boar’s Head – the good stuff,” said sheriff’s corporal Wayne Brooks. Like most of the law enforcement officers present, he was a youth relations or school resource officer. Unlike the others, he is set to retire this week after 47 years in law enforcement.

Brooks retired as a police chief in Tennessee after 30 years on the force, then “un-retired” to serve further in the CCSO. “Youth relations is the best job in law enforcement,” he said, his Tennessee roots still evident in his voice. “Anybody can arrest ’em, but we care about them.”

Sgt. Luke Arnold was in charge of the operation, and said that the deputies will be seeing these kids again next month – even if they don’t come out to one of the two remaining “Hot Summer Nights” events.  In the aftermath of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last winter, each school will have a deputy assigned.

“We want the kids to have fun, and establish a rapport at a young age with law enforcement,” said Arnold. “When they have positive interactions now, that carries through later on as adults.”