Denison residents and the city’s police force joined public safety agencies and communities across the country Tuesday in their celebration of the annual National Night Out.

The event was hosted largely by the Denison’s police and fire departments and celebrated in Forest Park. Participants and their families shared a meal with officers, played games, toured a host of emergency vehicles and even dodged a few showers throughout the evening.

“It’s a show of solidarity and unity between the community and law enforcement,” Denison Police Department Lt. Mike Eppler said. “Really, it says we’re going to work together to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

National Night Out was first launched in 1984 as a way to forge stronger relationships between communities and their police departments and is traditionally held on the first Tuesday in either August or October. In its first year, the program was celebrated in 600 communities in 23 states, but the celebration has since grown to include more first responders and 16,000 communities in every state.

Police departments nationwide, their officers and their tactics have been subjected to intense scrutiny in recent years for controversial arrests and police shootings, mainly of unarmed black men. Such incidents have led some to fear or lose confidence in their police officers and have set off fierce, ongoing debates over racial profiling, police brutality and the safety of both officers and the public.

Nicole Garrett attended this year’s National Night Out with her husband, Kent, a Denison firefighter, and their two young sons. Garrett said because of her husband’s line of work, she feels fortunate that her boys were able to meet and become comfortable with the public safety and law enforcement officials around them. But Garrett said she knew not every child or family felt that way, especially around police officers, and that’s made National Night Out all the more important.

“My dad was police officer. I remember him telling us stories of kids who were so scared of law enforcement that they wouldn’t come to them if there was something wrong,” Garrett said. “Where he worked there were a lot of parents who would teach their kids that cops were bad. So as we grew up, we tried to spread the word that police officers were good and weren’t always bad. And I think this helps show that.”

Denison Patrol Officer Amy Mills, who has attended five National Night Outs in just as many years with the department, said the event allowed members of the public to see her and fellow officers in a different light and as regular people who just happen to wear the uniform and badge.

“It builds great community relations,” Mills said of the National Night Out. “We get to interact with the people who live here and they get to see something other than the hard, police side of you. The more we’re out like this, the better our relationships are with the public.”

Mills said although National Night Out only lasts one night, Denison residents and the public are still more than welcome to keep in touch.

“Keep up with us on Facebook,” Mills said. “Come in to the police department or stop and talk to us if you see us in a restaurant. We’d be happy to start a conversation.”