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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
A long line of people waited outside the headquarters last October, excited to meet Superman—Chief Jerry Mitchell in costume—and other heroes of the Peoria (IL) Police Department. Since 2014, the department has hosted an open house on the Saturday before Halloween and invited community members to tour the station, trick or treat, and meet the staff and officers. Most officers dress up and the entire headquarters is decorated for the afternoon event. This year’s theme is Star Wars and the event will be held on October 28 from 4:00pm to 8:00pm.
Officer Amy Dotson coordinates the annual event that enables residents to learn more about the Peoria Police Department. “Our building belongs to the community and the [Halloween Open House] enables people to see where we work.” Every department participates in the afternoon of trick or treating; after a tour of the headquarters, visitors move to the patio for additional activities. Officers are onsite with the command center unit, SWAT truck, and other police vehicles for children to see and tour. The children can also enjoy a petting zoo and a balloon artist.
In 2016, over 1,300 people attended the open house and Dotson expects even more guests this year. The event is a big undertaking and involves planning by sworn and civilian employees, as well as high school Explorers and newly formed Cadets—a group of paid student employees who work for 20 hours each week while attending college. The officers donated all of the candy during the first two years of the open house program. In 2016, pallets of candy were donated for trick or treating through a partnership with a local food bank. Although most departments are open for the tour, the detectives’ division and the crime lab are secure areas; in those cases, the office doors are decorated and staff stand outside to hand out candy and meet the children and residents.
Dotson said she receives calls from people about the annual event, and the agency works to promote the event via social media, a press release, and flyers that officers hand out in the community. She notices that now residents are remarking about previous trips to the department and people in the community recognize officers from the event, especially the officers who go to the schools for education events or other issues.
“We can respect each other” and engage with every person in the community, Dotson reports, as she has seen people who have been arrested bring their children to the open house. In addition, the event provides a safe way for families to celebrate Halloween without the weekday rush. “Kids get handfuls of candy from officers and have the weekend to relax and recover from the sugar rush before going to school on Monday.”
Officer Amy Dotson
Spokesperson, Peoria Police Department
Editor, COPS Office
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