National Night Out Against Crime event opens up conversation with kids
BEMIDJI — It’s not every day that police have volunteers to sit in the back of squad cars, but if there is an officer who hears the request more often than others, it’s certainly Jon Hunt.
The Bemidji police officer, a veteran of the force since 1985 and D.A.R.E. officer at Bemidji Middle School for the last 16 years, quickly granted 14-year-old Devin Brown’s request Tuesday night. The soon-to-be seventh grader at the school was joined by three others who piled into the back seat of Hunt’s squad at a National Night Out Against Crime event, held at the Boys and Girls Club.
"When I look at a gathering like this,I see kids and families," Hunt said of the event. "We have to connect with everyone in the community. I don’t care what color you are."
Hunt was joined by members of the Bemidji police and fire departments, as well as Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp.
The event was free to the public, and extremely valuable for police. All were on Hunt’s turf, despite the summertime lack of classes.
"The whole crux of it is to open conversations with the kids," Hunt said. "In the summers, you figure out what they’re going through, you see them outside of school."
There was a dunk tank, free food, games, a boat from the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office for kids to climb in and a SWAT truck to gawk at, but, most importantly for Hunt, there were officers present as members of the community first, and police second. The ranks of law enforcement, particularly Hodapp’s force, increased by the minute as he handed out gold "Jr. Deputy" badges.
While Hodapp, in his sixth year as sheriff, connected with children via the kid-centric promise of a shiny sticker, Hunt roamed and talked.
"I try really hard, and hopefully succeed, at making as many connections as possible," Hunt said.
One of those connections is Brown, a young man already approaching 6 feet in height. He’s one of hundreds of Hunt’s "kids," (everyone from sixth-graders to 28-year-olds, he said).
"See ya, Officer Hunt," Brown said as he left the event."
"You didn’t forget your skateboard, did you?" Hunt’s replied.
Hunt’s D.A.R.E. curriculum now addresses bullying, and prescription drug use. Events are planned with the Boys and Girls Club for the upcoming school year.
"I wasn’t really sure he had his marbles straight," Hunt said of former Chief of Police Bob Tell’s decision to place the officer in the school. "I said I’d try it for a year, and that was 16 years ago. I feel blessed to have had this opportunity and to be this person."