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Neighbors picnic with police

TAKING HER FOR A SPIN: A boysmiles after pulling the cord that blows the firetruck's horn as he sits in a Marion Fire Department firetruck in Barnes Park Tuesday night. The firetruck was part of a National Night Out picnic hosted by the Garfield Neighborhood Association.

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Good relationships between community members and law enforcement don't form instantly, but sharing a meal together might be a start.

Residents of Marion's Garfield Neighborhood Association, which covers the area from Baldwin Avenue to Nebraska Street between Ind. 18 West and West Terrace Avenue, picnicked with public safety officers Tuesday night in Barnes Park as part of National Night Out, a movement to improve community-police relations.

Jan Bowen, president of the Garfield Neighborhood Association, said these days neighbors have lost that basic connection to one another.

“There's no cohesiveness anymore in neighborhoods. … It's tough getting neighborhood things going anymore,” Bowen said.

And knowing your neighbors is a crucial step toward creating safer communities, said neighborhood association member Linda Wilk, who helped to organize Tuesday's Night Out.

“The more you know your neighbors, the more you're able to say something when you see something suspicious,” she said.

One of the goals of Tuesday night's celebration, which featured a Marion Fire Department fire truck and an Marion Police Department squad car that kids got to explore, was to start to bridge some of the gaps between neighbors and public safety officers.

“Kids love it, they've never been this close to a police officer. And it's important for them to know I'm not the bogeyman,” said Jerry Brown, school resource officer at Marion Community Schools.

Brown let kids sit in the driver's seat of his squad car and try out the lights and siren, while giving out MPD stickers and bracelets.

Kids enjoyed the newly fixed-up park, complete with a picnic shelter and playground equipment, only recently finished and “re-opened” thanks to the efforts of Wilk and Bowen last year.

“Now that the park's been renovated, we're trying to find new ways to use it and get the word out about it,” Wilk said.

The Garfield Neighborhood Association is one of the “model” neighborhood associations in Marion, according to Neighborhood Association Coordinator Kayla Johnson.

The National Night Out used to be more popular among the many neighborhood associations in Marion, but this year Garfield was the only neighborhood to host a Night Out event with law enforcement.

Johnson said next year they hope to change that, and plans are already in the works for a bigger National Night Out celebration.

City Council President Brad Luzadder said he wants to encourage more neighborhoods in Marion to grow and feed relationships with public safety and local government. 

“A city that eats together is a city that stays together is a city that flourishes,” said Luzadder, who joined in the picnic with several other members of the Marion City Council. "And the investment will come back tenfold."