EAST PROVIDENCE — Cheyenne Lambert and a couple of friends from Riverside Middle School had decided late Tuesday afternoon to take a walk on the beach near Rosa Larisa Park, As they sat in the sand, they heard music blaring up the hill, and just had to investigate.
“I thought there was a band playing, but then I saw this party-like thing, and I was, like, 'You've got to be kidding me!'” grinned Lambert, a 12-year-old eighth grader-to-be this fall. “Then I saw Officers Tammy (David) and Mike (Spremulli, current and former Riverside Middle School Resource Officers) here, and I just had to say, 'Hi!'”
Gushed Brittany Maynard, Lambert's fellow classmate with Julia Vinniti: “I had no clue this was going on. It's like a party, a huge block party. And there's a Bouncy House! When I'm around one of those, it's like I'm three again!”
When the trio discovered free hot dogs, chips, water and candy were available, they immediately began strolling toward the food booths at this, the second annual East Providence “National Night Out” event, held from 5-8 p.m. at Rosa Larisa Park.
The city was just one of thousands of municipalities around the United States and the world to celebrate this event, all on the same night (excepting Texas) and everything available with no need for even a dime.
Pure and simple, it's designed to heighten crime prevention awareness; generate support for and participation in local anti-crime programs; strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and send a distinct message to criminals that communities are organized and fighting back.
Organizers of the “National Night Out” here, the 16 or so folks making up the East Providence Community Police Academy Alumni Association, procured 500 hot dogs from the Knights of Columbus, Fraternal Order of Police Association Lodge 3623 and other businesses; hundreds of bags of chips; at least 700 bottles of water; and containers full of candy and gum.
They asked community groups – such as Lovett's Tae Kwon Do of Seekonk, the Self-Defense Training Center in East Providence and the Riverside Dance Studio – to provide demonstrations, and Munroe's Dairy representatives to offer milk, ice cream and other treats to those attending.
Numerous vendors set up tables to deliver information on their organizations/businesses to those walking through the carnival-like atmosphere. Part of that came from now Det. Mike Spremulli, who offered his equipment and his services to act as disc jockey.
“We've been working this since the day after our first one ended,” sighed Danielle Petsch, President of the EPCPAAA, as the event began. “The most tedious part of organizing this is persuading local businesses to get in on it.
“The best part about this one is that, for the first time, (officials of) New York Life (Insurance) has come to do child identification CDs. The kids will be photographed and fingerprinted, and all pertinent information will be put into computers.
The parents then will be given all of that information on a CD.
“God forbid of a child is kidnapped, but this gives the parents easy access to the information police would need.”
Another organization attending for the initial time was the East Providence Prevention Coalition. Executive Director Jennifer Wall and others stood issuing free temporary tattoos to the youngsters while asking adults to volunteer for the EPPC's Board of Directors.
“It's going very well; the kids are enjoying themselves very much,” Wall said. “We're also asking parents to fill out a questionnaire as to what they believe the biggest issues are in E.P. – like healthy lifestyles in general, and maybe what their concerns are. We use it as a recruiting tool.
“This is our first year as an organization, and we're doing this because we want to be a part of the community and its festivities,” she continued. “Any time you try to prevent anything nefarious from occurring in this municipality, it takes the community to do it. This gives residents the chance to know who the players are.”
At the East Providence Fire Department's Fire Safety Trailer, designed to inform people of all ages on what to do in case of a home blaze, a few teen-agers had just “escaped” smoke and heat from the back.
“I read the sign on the (trailer) door, and I decided I wanted to go in,” explained Mario Peoples, 13, of Riverside. “I don't want to be a firefighter, but I do want to be in the military, so I thought this would help me. I learned that, when the toaster is plugged in, you shouldn't put any type of flammable item on it.
“I also learned that if you have small kids in your family, adults should make sure the panhandles on the stove should face inward, so the kids can't grab them … I think it's cool that (firefighters) are giving information to the kids. They're teaching them, but the adults, too.
“I think I feel more protected because now I'm meeting firemen and policemen. Now I know who's out there in the departments, and I've got to know to them better,” he added. “I was scared of them when I was little, but now that I know them, I don't see them that way.”
To the right side of the trailer, Fire Chief Joe Klucznik and firefighter Scott Grace instructed adults on the proper way to conduct cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“There is evidence from the culmination of a 10-year study by the American Heart Association that shows interruptions in chest compressions during CPR are what may lower the survival rate,” Grace stated. “Just those compressions can improve survival rates. If people have no idea about CPR, they're better off, because it has changed, and it makes CPR easier to learn.”
East Providence Fire Marshal Oscar Elmasian indicated he and fellow officers already had conducted three or four dozen instructional demonstrations, those exhibitions including simulated smoke and fire, the “Yucky Cabinet” (filled with poisonous kitchen and bathroom cleaners), etc.
“The parents have been impressed, I think, on how we interact with the kids and deliver our message,” he noted. “Once they reach the bedroom portion, they're instructed on how to exit the 'house.' And if an event occurs in which they need to exit by way of a window, we teach them that, too.”
Both children and adults were seen laughing while they scaled a rock-climbing wall, that provided by the Rhode Island National Guard. Down the hill from the west parking lot, members of Lovett's Tae Kwon Do and the Self-Defense Training Center performed demonstrations in front of dozens of intrigued on-lookers.
Parents just chuckled while watching their kids being hoisted into Patrolman Thomas Aguiar's cruiser, or onto Sgt. Michael Rose's motorcycle and Officer Tammy David's police bicycle. Likewise, they grinned when police personnel picked up little ones and placed them into the criminal investigations vehicle.
Naturally, Spremulli's act as DJ was one of the more popular venues on this night, even though he broke the 12-year-old Lambert's heart when she requested a tune by Justin Bieber.
“I don't think I have Justin,” he said, searching his MP3 player, to which Lambert immediately cringed.
“When (Sgt.) John Andrews asked me to help, and I found out Danielle Petsch was running it, I couldn't say 'No,'” Spremulli laughed while playing tunes from rock and pop bands. “I've known Danielle and her husband, Brian, for years now. She does a terrific job with this.
“I'm only a DJ if someone is really in need, but this is such a great cause, I wouldn't have missed it.”
Aguiar mentioned he attended for that reason, but another as well.
“You know, I did meet someone here who expressed her support to us as police officers,” he offered. “She said she recognized the increased scrutiny we're under in our jobs, with use-of-force issues and our regular enforcement duties. She also said, 'Thank you,' to me, as she understood on our mission in keeping the community safe.
“She told me she can differentiate between what is myth/misconception and reality, what is real when it comes to police work,” he continued. “Honestly, we get more positive feedback than you think, but it can be concerning when we're under some increased scrutiny. We do want people to understand what we do and why we do it.
“When that woman told me those things, I was very appreciative. She also picked a perfect place to say them, here at an event bringing the community and police closer together. I mean, we all – or most of us – have the same goals.”