Vista CA— A large group of people plus loud music surrounded by lots of police cars usually indicates a place you might want to steer clear of. That wasn’t the case on Sunday as curiosity brought a steady stream of people to the canopies set up in the parking lot of the Food4Less Shopping Center, 500 Hacienda Drive for a ‘Hug the Police’ event.
#HugThePolice got its start in Oceanside on July 13, 2016 when a hastily and loosely organized event was held in the parking lot of the Oceanside Police Department. That event was set up after a sniper attack left five Dallas police officers dead. “After what happened in Dallas, I heard a lot of people say they support the police but they just didn’t know how to say thank you to them.” said event organizer, Paul McQuigg at the July event. “So it was kind of like, if you build it, they will come. I always wanted to say thank you to the officers patrolling my street, keeping me safe. I thought if I could get just a few people to bring some snacks and get together, it would be a good way to say thank you.”
Since then there has been fifteen similar events, prior to Sundays, held around the county to show support to law enforcement officers.
Steve Hasty was part of the original event and decided to expand on the original idea. “I was driving home from the event in July and I was thinking, there are eighteen other municipalities in San Diego County, let’s try to get all cities involved.” He added. “We want to have something positive splashed all over social media.”
Steve put together a calendar, started a website, a Facebook page and began organizing events around the county. “We have eight more events scheduled eventually ending back in Oceanside on September 21, 2016. We started there, we’re going to end there.” said Steve. “I’m just one guy and I’m challenging people all over. I’m asking why aren’t you doing this in your city? If you’re in Omaha, Asheville, Chicago, New Jersey, whatever, my goal is to have this catch on all over the country.”
“I just think this is great.” said California Highway Patrol Officer, Jim Bettencourt who was one of several CHP officers receiving hugs and having their photos taken with visitors at the Vista event.
“It helps us bridge the gap between us and the community.” continued Officer Bettencourt, “Anytime we are out here doing community events, it lets people know, not only who we are as people but it also helps us understand what issues they’re facing in their communities and how we can serve them better. That’s always nice.”