VALPARAISO | Cairo found himself surrounded by bunches of pint-sized fans Tuesday evening.
The 6-year-old Valparaiso police dog received pets and hugs from children in Essex Park and other neighborhoods as part of National Night Out, a nationwide initiative designed to unite police officers and residents in the fight against neighborhood crime.
Cairo's handler, Officer Jerame Simpson, said the Belgian Malinois has been with the department for five years.
“He's so inquisitive. He likes to see the kids, and he's always a big hit,” Simpson said.
Essex Park was the first neighborhood of the evening visited by Valparaiso police officers, who have participated in the event for the past eight years. Portage police also took part in their community.
About 25 members of the department, including the K-9 unit, bicycle unit, patrol division and detective bureau also traveled to Pine Creek, Maple Creek, Eisenhower, Blaylock, Parkside, Napoleon, Lexington Green, Meridian Woods, Hawthorne, Campbell Meadows and the 3000 block of Oak Grove.
Valparaiso police Sgt. Michael Grennes said the goal is for police to meet residents and for neighbors to interact with each other. The idea is to strengthen the bonds so residents will feel more comfortable reporting any crimes.
“It opens up the lines of communication between us and community members,” Grennes said. “If something does happen, they're more willing to call police."
Mike Dec was among the Essex Park residents who attended the event, which took place near a gazebo. He brought his children, Cameron, 6, and Emily, 2, so they could meet the police and their dogs.
“We just wanted to show our support for local law enforcement,” Dec said. “This lets (the kids) know they're the good guys.”
Essex Park residents Francis Zoll, 85, and his wife, Lu, 82, sat on lawn chairs while they watched neighborhood kids pet Cairo and open bags filled with school supplies and candy. The bags were passed out by employees of the Target store in Valparaiso, the event's corporate sponsor.
The couple said they've lived in Essex Park for seven years and attend the police event every year.
“It's a beautiful night,” Lu Zoll said. “This is neat for the kids.”