Kids stopped to stare wide-eyed as the motorcade passed like a parade, with four motorcycle cops in the lead, lights flashing and sirens wailing. Inside the first car was North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco. Township commissioners and top members of the Police Department joined him in visits to all six locations in North Bergen where Night Out Against Crime events were taking place.
Night Out is a nationwide program designed to improve relationships between police and local communities in a fun, informal setting. In the past, the town held events in three locations. This year the mayor increased it to six to make sure that everyone could attend.
“I like the whole neighborhood theme,” said Police Chief Robert Dowd. “A lot of towns do it in one spot. Let’s say we did it in Braddock Park. Downtown, how are they going to get there? They’re going to feel left out. To me I like going to different neighborhoods.”
Each of the six locations had its own identity, from the senior housing complex to Policeman’s Park to the extended block party on Broadway. Sacco and the commissioners visited all six sites, meeting with residents, handing out glow sticks and toys to kids, and raffling off free girl’s and boy’s bicycles and helmets at each location, courtesy of Target, Walmart, and the many other vendors who donated to the event.
“There are so many people working on this and you don’t even realize how much they’re putting in.” –Mayor Nicholas Sacco
Bader Risheg, a teacher and committee person in town, spent the weeks before Night Out knocking on doors and handing out flyers to promote the event. At Kennedy School he manned a table, giving out hand sanitizers, Frisbees, and other items donated by Palisades Medical Center. “It’s a nice event,” he said. “The Police Department gives back with food, music, games, stuff for the kids.”
Nearby, kids flocked to Nico, one of the newest officers in the police department. “Nico is Hudson County Sheriff’s first drug dog,” said his partner, Officer Bart Lore. The two went through eight months of training together, graduating on March 22. “Nico is dual trained; he’s a patrol dog and narcotics. Patrol means criminal apprehension, protection, building searches, tracking.”
‘Tonight’s the right time’
“I just want to say, number one: have a good time tonight. Enjoy yourself a little bit.” Chief Dowd was addressing a room full of officers at the beginning of the evening, before they set out to meet the public. “Number two: take the time to actually speak to residents. We don’t always get a chance to see them in a good atmosphere, at a good time. They don’t call us to tell us to come on over, it’s my 2-year-old’s birthday. They call us to say come over, my 2-year-old is drowning. It’s always a chaotic, hectic time. It’s always the wrong time when we show up. Tonight is the right time.”
Policeman’s Park was among the three new locations added to this year’s Night Out agenda, and the place was packed. Representatives from the library showed up to hand out information and sign people up for library cards. Residents enjoyed free popcorn, watermelon, cotton candy, and kids met with army representatives giving out personalized dog tags.
Also new this year was the block party at Applied Housing on 26th Street. Local resident Osvaldo Ramirez took advantage of the event to display his mixed-media artwork on the street and hand out free greeting cards he designed, featuring images of Mickey Mouse and Goofy. “These are related to the theme,” he said, pointing out the messages on the cards: “peace,” “love,” “against crime.”
Miguel Lopez stood by his 1964 Chevy 2 Nova, modified with a 350 V8 engine. “We’re representing for the police,” he said, surrounded by classic cars and their owners. “We’re part of the Hoboken Cruisers. It’s an established old car group. We’re all related somehow: uncles, cousins.”
Antique cars featured at another location, the senior buildings on Grand Avenue. Rich Salamon, owner of several models, was showing off his favorite, a 1951 Mercury. “We’re just a bunch of friends,” he said. “There’s no club or anything. We used to be a club but then you’ve got to force yourself to go certain places. We just get together and go wherever we want.”
Mayor Sacco cut a celebratory Night Out cake and chatted with senior residents enjoying the pleasant evening in the courtyard.
“This location used to get packed when it was combined but I think it’s a little bit more enjoyable now,” said Deputy Police Chief Peter Facilis. “Not all the seniors used to come out because the kids were noisy. So we separated the kids and the seniors.”
The third new location was barely a block away, in Meadowview Village. Kids swarmed in the barricaded street and in the ball courts, enjoying gifts and trinkets and meeting excitedly with McGruff the Crime Dog.
A coordinated effort
Captain William Lyons has been coordinating the event for the Police Department for two years. “Each location has a host,” explained Chief Dowd. “They host the local party and he coordinates with them. He works with different officers, different people in town trying to solicit donations and sponsorships. A lot of people helped us. Aimee Focaraccio, she gave a lot of time and drummed up donations.”
Focaraccio, the emergency relief coordinator for North Bergen, was at the Broadway location, where the festivities stretched for blocks and a large stage hosted musical and entertainment acts.
“This is perfect for me and my daughter; a family event for the children,” said local resident Francia, attending with her 2-year-old daughter, Donatella. “I always look for activities for her. I have her in the summer program at the library. I have her in dance and reading and story time and a bunch of stuff. It’s awesome. Other towns don’t do anything.”
“This is diversity in action,” laughed Ana Gomez, handing out free giveaways alongside neighbor Diana Awavallah. “We’ve given away t-shirts, hats, toys for the kids. This is from the North Bergen Police Department and the mayor’s office, providing the neighbors information to help the residents be more aware about safety and things of that nature in town.”
“I’ve lived in the same place 36 years,” said Awavallah. “Everything the town does I go and volunteer. Because I like Mayor Sacco. He’s the best. He never said ‘no’ when you ask him for help. He always helps everybody. He’s like part of the family.”
Police Officer Eric Crafton only got busier as the night wrapped up. “I was tossing out about 1,000 Mardi Gras beads before,” he said. “I had to stop. It got too crazy.”
Crazy was the word for it, as he ended the evening by tossing literally thousands of glow sticks generously donated by Jersey City Ford to a crowd of happy, shouting kids.
“I think this was the best one ever,” said Mayor Sacco as the streets began to empty. “We had so many different sites and they were all so popular. I’m very, very happy with the turnout. There are so many people working on this and you don’t even realize how much they’re putting in.”
Heads up: Next year he’s already talking about adding a seventh site.
Vendors who contributed to this year’s event included A to Z Beverage LLC, Beverage Plus, BJs, Blossom Nails, Boulevard Diner, Brick Oven Pizza, Franklin First Financial, Gold and Silver Concepts, Health Center Pharmacy: of West New York, Hudson Bread, JayDeen, Jersey City Ford, Jersey Meatballs, Kate Spade, M&M Bakery, New Foliage Chinese restaurant, Nolan Insurance, Off the Top Barbershop, OTCRx4U, Palisades Medical Center, Palermo Pizza, Paloma Foods LLC, Roses Deli, Schripps Pretzels, ShopRite, Soundworx, Target, Thayer Metro, United Candy & Tobacco Inc, United Water, Verizon, James Vincent, Vitamin Shop, Walmart, and Yum Yum Express.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.