When members of the public encounter police officers, firefighters and paramedics for the first time, it’s often under unfortunate circumstances. But as part of National Night Out, which comes to Denison next week, locals will get the chance to meet their first responders while all enjoy a community-wide cookout complete with activities, safety demonstrations and learning opportunities.

Denison’s Night Out will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Forest Park, which is located at 300 W. Crawford Street.

“There will be games, events, food and a lot of fun things going on,” Denison Police Lt. Mike Eppler said.

According to the National Association of Town Watch, the first National Night Out was held in August 1984 and was organized by a former community-watch volunteer who wanted to better connect residents, civic groups and emergency agencies. An estimated 2.5 million people participated in the first National Night Out, but the event now draws an annual attendance of about 38 million and is hosted in 16,000 communities across all 50 states.

The city of Sherman will not host its own Night Out, but is expected to send several officers to Denison for the event. Sherman Police Lt. John Kennemer said National Night Out is an important way for police and other emergency personnel to share their more personal side with the people they serve every day.

“We like this event because it gives us a chance to meet the citizens who we don’t always see on a daily basis and it opens up a line of communication and helps establishes a positive rapport between all of us.”

Eppler said the evening is also an important show of solidarity against those who would harm the community through criminal activity.

“It lets the bad guys know that the neighborhood and the community belongs to the citizens,” Eppler said.

Attendance is free and advanced registration is not required. For additional information, visit http://www.cityofdenison.com or call 903-465-2422.

Drew Smith is the crime and emergency reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith@heralddemocrat.com.