Meeting a friendly face in public safety was a walk in the park Tuesday night, as kids and families poured into Rengstorff Park for Mountain View's annual National Night Out celebration.
The community-building event, which is held in cities across the country in early August, gave residents a chance to meet dozens of neighborhood cops and firefighters, check out one of the city's fire engines and acquaint themselves with Mountain View Police Department's top K-9 dogs. Attractions included an inflatable slide for kids to tumble down, food trucks and a musical mishmash of 80s and 90s hits.
Events like National Night Out are a good way for people to meet local cops in a positive environment, said Sgt. Wahed Magee, a member of the Mountain View Police Department's Neighborhood and Event Services (NES) unit. Often times, contact between the public and police happens when they aren't at their best, like during a 911 emergency call or when they are being questioned as a witness to a crime. As a NES officer, Magee's job is to be a face for the department at events like neighborhood meetings and block parties, and foster an open line of communication between police and the community.
"Oftentimes it gives them a chance to talk about issues they wouldn't normally call police about," he said.
Accompanying Magee was one of the main attractions at Tuesday's event, Mountain View's intrepid drug-sniffing dog Zeus. The department's favorite black Labrador, which can be seen in police news releases sitting complacently next to heaping piles of narcotics and contraband, has an impressive track record. Over his five-year tenure of sniffing out illicit drugs, Zeus has helped officers locate hundreds of pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine as well as millions of dollars in seized cash from drug busts, Magee said.
Also out shaking hands and meeting residents at National Night Out was Officer Mike Taber, a long-time member of the department who last month was named Mountain View's Community Outreach Officer a new role to boost public outreach and crime prevention. Taber said part of his job includes following up with people who are contacted by police and need some kind of assistance or service that goes beyond law enforcement. His job is to follow up with these needy residents as best he can, and it's a good feeling, he said, to see police reports end with "referred to Officer Taber for assistance."
Taber's job specifically focuses on the homeless and vehicle-dwelling population in Mountain View that has increased rapidly in recent years, including the long corridor of parked RVs directly north of Rengstorff Park. The new role includes both law enforcement like policing city ordinances that bar illegal dumping as well as linking homeless residents to social services.