BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Hundreds of people gathered at Bakersfield College on Tuesday night for the annual National Night Out event, which brings law enforcement personnel and the public together, along with food, music and other vendors.
"It's one of the few opportunities you have to interact with first-responders on a non-life-threatening, non-terrifying, upsetting, scary situation" said Rachel Rivera, a community outreach specialist for the Bakersfield Police Department.
BPD SWAT Sgt. Ryan Kroker said his favorite part is showing the kids all the gear they use.
"The whole point is to interact with the community the kids love it," he said. "They feel like they are on Call of Duty whenever they come out here."
The National Night Out was started more than 30 years ago as a way to help reduce crime. Recently, it has come to serve another purpose.
"As we all know, law enforcement have gone through some difficult times just like many of our neighborhoods have," said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.
Scrutiny of police brutality has been at the forefront of national discourse for several years now. But within the past few weeks, two deadly attacks against police officers, one in Dallas and another in San Diego, have sent shock-waves through the law enforcement community.
"With us in law enforcement we're always at a heightened sense of alert," said Robert Rodriguez, the public information officer for the CHP in Bakersfield.
He said, he has always known his job was dangerous.
"This is our suit and tie," he said, gesturing to his gun and his bullet-proof vest.
The goal of tonight, he says, is to build up trust, which could end up being more protective than that bullet-proof vest.
"Our heart is for our community, especially the community we live in," he said.