In theory, National Night Out sounds a little strange — encourage thousands of residents, in cities nationwide to throw block parties and barbecues that will be attended by city law enforcement.
In practice, National Night Out is a city-sanctioned, nationwide, one-night event to encourage residents to get to know their neighbors and reclaim their streets, all in an effort to deter crime. In urban hubs across the country, this message resonates particularly strongly, where some communities have historically had complex and sometimes strained relationships with the police.
At a National Night Out event in Chicago, Ill., Francis Valadez, commander of the 14th district of the Chicago Police Dept., said, “I believe that a lot of kids that are here this is their first contact with the police. Hopefully it’s positive and they remember it, and they don’t fear the police. … We don’t want to be the bad guys. … We want to help kids with their goals in life.”
In Chicago, where so many of the victims and the perpetrators of homicide are youth and tied to gangs, police are trying many different tactics, including exploring “social circles” of so-called targets or potential victims to head off killings and the retaliations they bring.
Alderman James Balcer (11th Ward) pointed out some of the obstacles faced by the city. “Crime is always a problem, gangs, graffiti, drugs, bad buildings … you work to contain them and if people cooperate … and work with the police we’re able to eradicate. Their tips have helped lead to the arrest [and] convictions of [gang members].”
Citizens were pleased with the effort to build partnerships as well. Virginia Tompkins, a benefit consultant for Harmony Welfare Company, said “I think this is a great thing. I think that everybody that [is] in this environment need to have fun, so many times our communities are just ridden with crime and violence, so to be able to have a night out is excellent. It’s a stress reliever for families.”
You can read more about National Night Out in other cities at Across the Country, Neighborhoods Gather, Celebrate National Night Out | Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.