Columbia holds kickoff event before National Night Out

ccope@thestate.comAugust 4, 2013 

Bobo, a police department tracking dog, didn’t scare one little girl at the city of Columbia’s kickoff event to National Night Out on Saturday in Finlay Park.

Marissa Deleon, 3, thought Bobo was fluffy, and wasn’t at all bothered that the dog was bigger than she was.

“We don’t have attack dogs – we have dogs that are trainable, highly sociable and ready to work,” said Sgt. P.T. Blendowski.

At the beginning of the celebration, Blendowski stood with Jesse, a German shepherd who is the department’s newest addition, imported from the Netherlands. People weren’t allowed to pet Jesse because he was so new, but Blendowski brought him out for socialization.

Columbia residents socialized with public safety officials during the 6th annual kickoff event, which precedes the actual National Night Out on Tuesday, when neighbors are encouraged to turn on their porch lights and socialize in an effort to prevent crime and drug use.

“We want people to rally together and take a stand against crime,” said Ruben Santiago, Columbia’s interim police chief.

Some police vehicles had blue lights turned on; there was also a fire truck with the ladder extended.

The department’s bomb squad showed off a robot and bomb suit. The squad primarily uses the robot to open suspicious packages, said Cpl. Michael Walsh.

“If the robot loses a hand, we can replace that,” Walsh said.

David China, a firefighter with the Columbia Fire Department, passed out plastic red fire hats and packets that included coloring sheets. He said visibility in the community is important for the department because firefighters are scheduled across three shifts a day, making it difficult for them to get to know residents.

The University of South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement and Safety also wanted to be visible in the community and had a presence at the event.

Many people do not realize the university has a full-service police department, said Lt. Teena Gooding.

The event was also aimed at kids. Marissa’s favorite part was jumping in the bounce houses and running through sprinklers.

Reach Cope at 803 771-8657.

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