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Annual event draws crowds to Forest Park

Forest Park High School JROTC student Estrella Martinez, right, paints a bright yellow princess crown on the forehead of Brianna Johnson, 4, who attended National Night Out with her mom, Tasia Johnson of Conley. (Staff Photos: Kathy Jefcoats)

Forest Park High School JROTC student Estrella Martinez, right, paints a bright yellow princess crown on the forehead of Brianna Johnson, 4, who attended National Night Out with her mom, Tasia Johnson of Conley. (Staff Photos: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Lynette Riverol gets fingerprinted by Forest Park JROTC student Moet Weems during National Night Out at Forest Park’s Starr Park.

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A Forest Park police officer answers questions from the crowd after a K-9 demonstration at Starr Park Tuesday night. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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A line forms early for free hot dogs, bottled water and bagged chips during Tuesday’s National Night Out program at Starr Park. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

FOREST PARK — Some of the best things in life are free and the offerings at Tuesday’s fifth annual National Night Out were a perfect example of that.

Celia Riverol of Morrow came out with her family to check out all the activities. Several apartment complexes were among the dozens of businesses and agencies that participated in the event at Starr Park.

“My sister told us all about it and she works at one of the apartment complexes,” said Riverol. “I thought it was a great idea to bring the kids out to do the identification program. It’s free and a great opportunity.”

Riverol’s daughter, Lynette, 4, had her photo and fingerprints taken in the event she ever goes missing. The Georgia Child Identification Program is sponsored by Freemasons of Georgia. Tuesday’s CHIP event was manned by students in Forest Park High School JROTC and included face painting.

This year marked the 30th annual observance of National Night Out, a crime and drug prevention event. Forest Park police Maj. Chris Matson said the program is designed to heighten crime, drug and violence prevention awareness, generate support for and participation in local anti-crime programs, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships, and send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.

Sgt. Charles Yermack organized this year’s event, which included participation from Clayton County police, fire and sheriff’s departments, Jonesboro and Riverdale police, Georgia State Patrol, Clorox Inc., several furniture and appliance rental centers, Chick-fil-A, Clayton County Board of Health, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, Calvary Refuge Center and Forest Park city departments.

Members of the Community Emergency Response Team, known as CERT, manned a table where they handed out brownies, cookies and lemonade.

There were two demonstrations with a K-9 unit and a static display of police, fire, emergency medical services and public works vehicles. Yermack said he was pleased with the turnout, which he estimated to be doubled from last year.

“I think we had a good mix of educational materials with entertainment, along with good police interaction,” he said. “It’s nice for residents to know we are all on the same page and that we want to keep Forest Park a great place to live and work.”

Clayton County police Sgt. Tracy Jakes and Detective Danielle Rosa from Community Affairs Division showed off several patrol cars, all equipped with the latest technology. One by one, children climbed into the driver’s seat and smiled as their parents took their photos. Several had their pictures taken with Rosa and Jakes.

“We came out to support Forest Park and interact with the community,” said Jakes. “It’s part of our department’s community-oriented policing philosophy.”

Rosa agreed.

“We work together with citizens and participating in this event shows how the departments come together in support,” she said. “We’re one big law enforcement family.”

There were games for the kids, informational booths and free hot dogs, bottled water and bagged chips. Several candidates wandered the crowds, handing out literature and pressing the flesh of voters.