Gavin Petrosky looked straight ahead, solemnly, as the bicycle helmet was placed gently on his head. The police officer gently pulled the straps down around Gavin’s chin.
“It’s a little big, but he can grow into it,” Patrolman Loren MacIver told the 5-year-old’s mother, Whitney, pulling the straps closed under Gavin’s chin. “You’ll just need to shorten up these straps here.”
With that, MacIver took the helmet off Gavin’s head and handed it to his mother.
Nearby, at Riverfront Park, other members of the Point Pleasant police department and its Police Explorers group handed out information on the dangers of bicycling without a helmet and took the opportunity to engage passers-by about the rules that apply to bike riders in the borough.
The bicycle safety messages were just part of the borough's National Night Out, part of a nationwide event that aims to draw awareness to crime prevention and community awareness programs.
The borough event was organized by the Community Watch Program, a cooperative effort of the police department and residents, according to resident coordinator C.J. Sabosik.
A primary goal of the event was to create positive interaction between the public and the police department, which is crucial to building the kind of relationships that lead to residents feeling comfortable enough with police to provide the kinds of information that help the borough’s police solve crimes more quickly, Point Borough Police Chief Larry Williams said.
Ideally, the relationships become such that residents will tip police off to crimes in progress, Williams said.
“If we can catch them in the act, it’s so much easier,” Williams said.
“There’s been a rapid crime spree in the last three or four weeks,” Sabosik said, “so this event came along at just the right time.”
The Community Watch Program is about more than just keeping an eye on neighborhoods and trying to squelch crime, however. Sabosik said the group hopes to bring a town that is relatively close even closer, and let the residents interact not only with the police and other emergency services, but with each other as well.
That also enables the police to spread public safety messages more easily, Williams said.
Nearby, adults stood clustered in groups, chatting, children played tag and munched on popcorn and cotton candy. A group of younger children played tag while older ones rode bikes around the park.
“See, you have all those parents over there at the playground with their children,” Williams said, motioning toward the east end of the park. “They form networks and those networks can help us get the word out about things going on in the community.”
For instance, a string of recent burglaries has involved homes or cars left unlocked and the borough’s police department has been trying to urge people to lock both to thwart burglars.
At a time where the police department is at its lowest staffing level in 35 year, any cooperation the department can get is important.
“We had 29 officers when I started here in 1976,” Williams noted, “and after a retirement on Oct. 1, we will be back to 29 again.”
Sabosik, a registered nurse who’s done everything from working in the intensive care unit and emergency room to community outreach and in-home visits, feels the community interaction is crucial.
In addition to the National Night Out program, she said the group has been trying to recruit volunteers and spread its message at a variety of community events, including a litter clean-up and a toy drive it’s organizing for the holidays.
The group also is trying to soften the appearance of the office of Lt. Robert Lokerson, the borough’s domestic violence officer. They’ve secured the donation of a couch and are looking for toys and books for children.
“They bring people in here who are in crisis,” Sabosik said, including victims of sexual assault, families who are fire victims, and those who are escaping a violent home situation.
“It’s hard enough when they’re going through something like that,” she said. “We want to make them a little more comfortable.”
Tuesday night, the mood was lighter. Members of the fire company gave residents a bird’s eye view of the Manasquan River aboard the company’s ladder truck, while board members and volunteers of the Community Watch program handed out popcorn and bottled water.
MJ Bavais-Mehorter and Marisa Giordano took turns doing battle with the cotton candy machine. Bits of spun cotton candy floated into the air like spider webs as they loaded paper cones with the pink fluff.
“I’m just covered,” Bavais-Mehorter said, as she tried to peel some of the candy from her hands.
“This was really well done for a small community event,” Whitney Petrosky said as she belted Gavin and her daughter, Jaiden, into the cart attached to her bicycle.
“We liked that the kids had a chance to see the police and get to know them,” Daryl Doles said.
“They’re little yet,” she said, motioning to her daughter, Kelly, and son, Joey, “but at least they can see the officers and the police chief and be able to know it’s the chief.”