For the seventh year in a row, the Conway Police Department sponsored the Child Safety Fair, giving hundreds of children from across the county the opportunity to learn about safety while also befriending local officers and other first responders.
“The Child Safety Fair is about giving children the chance to spend some time with local police officers, law enforcement officers and other first responders when they’re not in an emergency situation,” CPD spokesman LaTresha Woodruff said.
The safety fair allows children to enjoy themselves while meeting law enforcement officers and learning more about what they do.
The first ever Child Safety Fair was held in 2012 and saw around 200 attendees. On Saturday, more than 550 attended the event.
Families were encouraged to take their children by each booth set up inside the Conway Expo and Event Center.
Conway resident Mireya Hurtabo brought her two boys, 4-year-old Gael and 8-year-old Ulysses to the annual event.
Gael and Ulysses, with help from officers Chris Buss and Paul Burnett, hopped on top of CPD’s patrol motorcycles and smiled as Buss turned on the flashing blue lights.
The Hurtabos first attended the Child Safety Fair in 2018. After her children enjoyed themselves for a second year, Mireya told the Log Cabin Democrat she plans to return for the 2020 Child Safety Fair.
“I love it,” she said. “We came las year and it was awesome. The kids have a great time.”
Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services first responders were onsite, leading children through an obstacle course and teaching them the rules of the road for when they’re out riding their bicycles through their own neighborhoods.
Nearby, Conway dispatchers and officers set up a Bingo booth. Woodruff said this game helps teach children the different roles medical professionals, officers and other first responders. It also teaches them to know what different street signs mean and more.
“They’re playing Bingo, but there’s a twist,” Woodruff said with a smile Saturday afternoon. “They’re having fun, but we’re also teaching them about safety.”
Hosting these types of events is important to Conway officers, Woodruff said.
“The police department needs to be able to build these relationships,” she said.
The Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office handed out bracelets and coloring books on Saturday. They even had a “race track” set up where children lined up to see who could make it to the finish line first while wearing “drunk goggles.”
FCSO spokesman Erinn Stone said the event proves itself to be a positive environment to meet residents.
“We see a lot of sadness, so it really helps when we get to come out and meet people this way,” she said.
Residents Berklee Casteel, Bailey Fournier and Harlee Fournier raced against each other while wearing the “drunk goggles” during Saturday’s event.
The three girls said the race was their favorite part of the Child Safety Fair.
During the event, two of CPD’s K-9 handlers briefed attendees on the duties of the department’s K-9s. Officers Brittany Byrd and Matt Edgmon led the demonstration using Edgmon’s partner, Chase.
Byrd has served CPD for more than four years and Edgmon has served the department for 10 years. Altogether, the department has four K-9s that aid officers.
The trained police dogs help officers track people who run from authorities, recover items and help locate narcotics.
The two officers first demonstrated how K-9s track drugs using three wooden stands. To show how the trained dogs search for drugs, the officers first hid a tennis ball in one of the stands. As officer Edgmon guided Chase along each of the stands, the dog abruptly stopped and the sand stationed in the middle of the demonstration zone.
The dog would not budge as Edgmon tried to pull Chase away, signaling a suspicious item was under the stand. Byrd said the dogs know to look for tennis balls, because they’re associated with their drug-finding tasks. Typically, the K-9 would receive a tennis ball as a reward upon completing a drug sniff, she said.
Byrd also suited up with the bite-sleeve.
Once handler Edgmon gave Chase the command, the dog jumped onto Byrd and bit down on her arm. Edgmon said the dogs are trained to bite down on a suspect one time and then hold down until authorities are able to catch up to perpetrator.
“This dog’s job is not to attack people … our goal is to apprehend a dangerous suspect,” he said. “We want to see them get one firm bite and hold that person down until we get there.”
Many children gathered at the Conway Fire Department’s booth to watch a fire safety video and meet local firefighters.
At the end of the day, Woodruff said the event was successful and that she looks forward to next year’s safety fair.
“All the smiles on the kids’ faces lets us know that what we have done here was all worth while, that we are out here building relationships with children” she said. “In some cases, many of the children here may not have had the opportunity to have an encounter with a police officer. Today, they [were able to] have positive encounters with police officers, from sitting on their motorcycles to touring the SWAT bus and taking pictures with them.”