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Local families got an opportunity to get up close and personal with Beatrice police and other officials at the annual Community Connections event on Fifth Street, Thursday evening.

Beatrice Police Department held the event with law enforcement, fire department and emergency services assisting. Southeast Community College, Public Health Solutions, Teen Challenge, Out of the Darkness and the Beatrice Middle School Hope Squad set up tables with handouts.

Julie's Hot Dogs and Traubel’s Popcorn Stand had lines of people waiting for food throughout the evening. The Beatrice High School band, cheerleaders and varsity football players participated in a parade with the Beatrice Special Olympics team.

Water balloon games, carnival games and a petting zoo lined the sides of Fifth Street between Ella and Court streets for entertainment. Music played in the background with a DJ making announcements.

“Originally we started this event for first responders to collect information from community members," said police chief Bruce Lang. "For example, in case of emergency and the child has autism and maybe they are afraid of uniforms or if there is a heart condition in the house, and a call would come in from that address, we would have an alert on the computer screen and better prepare us to arrive there.

“We started Community Connections with the special needs community, but it’s evolved into an inclusive event," Lang said. We saw some benefit to that and we’ve worked hard with interactive games to mix the different groups. We are all a part of our community and everybody has challenges in their life. It’s nice when we can naturally get different populations to mix."

Brian Daake, Fire Department chief, said the connections made at the event has helped his staff respond appropriately to different situations.

“That information has been key in our ability to treat individuals,” said Daake.

“Through my years with Beatrice Police Department and specifically as a School Resource Officer I see the importance of community relations and community policing," said officer Zac Lauenstein. "Working together with the community to resolve the problems that they see as problems and using their solutions. Building relationships is the biggest part of that and events like this help us meet the community and team up with them to make Beatrice even better than it already is.”

Jason Alexander, Superintendent of Beatrice Public Schools, said it’s important for kids to have the opportunity to be involved in the community from the standpoint that it opens their eyes and broadens their perspective.

"It will hopefully teach them to give back to so many who give so much to them," Alexander said. "Hopefully it will teach them the world is about growing, learning and experiencing the world outside the classroom.”

The Community Connections event is held every third Thursday of September.

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