It's once in a blue moon that shoppers will witness an Upper Gwynedd Township Police motorcycle making laps inside the Montgomery Mall.
When Officer Fred Lynch briefly wailed the siren, it turned some heads. He greeted shoppers as he drove by, and then said hello to him on his return lap.
Lynch then parked the cycle outside the lower level of JC Penney's; before long, children and teens were taking a seat on the cycle themselves, blaring the horn and causing more to turn their heads.
Often, those people would see what all the noise was about — and leave with their child signed up for free as a new member of the nonprofit North Penn Police Athletic League.
The North Penn PAL kicked off its presence in the area with a sign-up and awareness event Saturday at the mall.
"It's excellent. It's a good turnout," said North Penn PAL Executive Director Greg O'Brien. "We have about 25 signed up already."
Saturday's event was all about visibility for the North Penn PAL.
The idea for a local PAL began with the drive of Towamencin Township Police Officer Patrick Horne. He looked to Abington's PAL for influence and brought it to Chief Tim Dickinson, who offered guidance on the implementation of the PAL.
Read more about the North Penn PALs inception and mission in this story.
"We want to reach out to schools, public and parochial, and start the buzz, if you will," O'Brien said.
A lot of parents stopped by at the PAL kickoff tables to ask questions about the PAL, such as the age group and the programs it runs locally.
"There's a misconception that we do all sports programs," O'Brien said. "It's not full-on sports."
The PAL has a plan to begin various programs to help area youths be better individuals. For instance, it plans to reach out to sponsor TD Bank to run a how-to class on balancing a checkbook and other financial information.
A basketball clinic is planned at the North Penn YMCA between Christmas and New Year's.
"Most end up signing up because of word of mouth: 'I signed up. You should sign up.' It gives us more visibility — and visibility is excellent," O'Brien said.
O'Brien emphasized no cost, no commitment with the North Penn PAL.
"Kids get to know their local police officers, and find out they are here to help," he said. "The six to 10 year olds love us. Once they hit 11, it's all a different story. They think they have to look over their shoulder. They get fearful when they see a uniform. Here, they can meet officers face-to-face, joke around with them and get honest answers."
Police departments that are part of the North Penn PAL include Towamencin, Montgomery, Lansdale, Upper Gwynedd, Hatfield Township and North Wales Borough.
Noah Marlier is a North Penn PAL board member — and an assistant district attorney with Montgomery County.
"It's been fantastic," Marlier said of Saturday's event. "It's really wonderful to see the interaction between kids and officers. The enthusiasm of participants comes out."
Marlier said parents had been coming out just to see what PAL has to offer them and their families.
"When you explain the mission and North Penn PAL, they are taken to it and are excited," he said. "Then, they sign up to participate."
Marlier said it is so important for people to see what law enforcement does and, in turn, see what PAL police do and how much they want to help the community.
"These events strengthen that relationship," he said. "I think this will take off. We have other PAL groups in Montgomery County that are very successful."
As mentioned before, Abington PAL holds about 16 events a month and boasts a strong membership. The Greater Norristown PAL runs food drives and community service days throughout the borough.
"Change requires change," said Montgomery County Detective Tyrone Tate, who has been involved with Greater Norristown PAL for six years, running its boxing program. "You have to change the attitude. Officers can't do it all on their own. We are bridging the gap."
Tate said PALs are meant to be active and up front in the lives of its youth.
"Once that connection is made, it's made forever," Tate said, who spent 12 years with Whitemarsh Township Police.
No one was more proud of the event and its response from the public than Dickinson, who serves as president of the North Penn PAL and president of its executive board.
"It's very encouraging," Dickinson said of the kickoff. "Everyone here is a volunteer, and they have signed up a lot of members. We hope the word gets out."
Dickinson said the North Penn PAL has three main goals: enhance the contact between local youths and the police, form better partnerships with the community, and lead youths toward each of their own personal goals.
"If we can help one kid that needs direction, or does not know what they are interested in, through contact with him or her, and that sparks an interest, we've done our job," Dickinson said. "When people hear about us, they want to be involved with us."
Dickinson said each new program or event brings a new direction for the PAL.
"Who knows where we can go? We'll see," he said. "How far we go is based on the need."
Sign up your son and daughter for North Penn PAL for free at http://www.northpennpal.org/join-pal