A Night Out Against Crime

First of several police-community events scheduled this month

Pershing Field wasn’t the only park in Jersey City where people gathered for the National Night Out Against Crime. But the event drew such a heavy crowd, you’d think it was the main event.
The city hosted similar Night Out events on Aug. 2 at other strategic locations including Audubon Park, Arlington Park, and Hamilton Park. Designed to bring the police together with members of the communities they serve, over the last two years the national event has come to mean something even more, a show of support for officers who put their lives on the line each day.
A few weeks prior to the 2014 Night Out, Jersey City Police Officer (later detective) Melvin Santiago was gunned down on the west side of the city. His death seemed to be a foreshadowing of similar tragic events that occurred this year in Dallas and Baton Rouge where police officers were assassinated.
The last two years have also seen a fracturing of trust between police and communities of color over the tragic deaths of people under arrest at the hands of police. Protests have sometimes erupted, causing increased friction.
According to Letia Nalls, a police spokesperson for the North District (which includes Pershing Field), Night Out provides an opportunity for community members to meet and interact with police officers in a non-confrontational way, and to get to know cops as people doing fun things together.

“Our officers are working the streets and getting to know residents and business owners each and every day, but events like National Night Out are an added chance for us to meet with the community.” – Public Safety Director James Shea
Most people do not interact with police unless it involves a crisis, whether as a suspect or a victim to a crime. During the annual Night Out celebrations across the country, people get to meet cops as people.

A lot to see and do

Cops were everywhere on Tuesday, performing a number of duties to help make the night a success, from blowing up balloons to carrying boxes of food and bags filled with bottled water. The event brought out a remarkable number of people as well as community organizations from the Boy Scouts to the U.S. Marines.
Information tables were run by groups from around the city such as Hudson Pride. That’s where Joseph Zapata, an outreach associate, and others handed out a variety of information dealing with LBGT issues. Their presence also seemed to reflect some of the positive progress the gay community has made over the last several years.
“We don’t normally come out for events,” said Staff Sergeant Edwin D. Ramirez, who is a member of the recruiting office in Journal Square. “But we came out to show our support.”
With information tables from more than two dozen community organizations, the Marine tent was among the most popular, featuring a pull-up bar and a line of young men and women seeking to show off their strength.
The U.S. Marines were not the only ones recruiting. Matthew Dietz, an Eagle Scout with Troop 466, had set up a table to talk to people about the advantages of scouting.
“It’s a great program, and it teaches you skills and gives you experience you can use later,” he said.
Dietz also noted that the local police are involved with a number of scouting programs across Jersey City.
“We have a police officer as one of the adults involved with our pack,” he said.
One of the busiest attractions at this year’s “Night Out Against Crime” at Pershing Field was the Dunk the Cop tank. People lined up for their chance to hurl a baseball at a target and score a bulls-eye that would dump a police officer into a vat of water. The police officer inside the tank taunted young men and women for their poor pitching. When he got dunked early on, he had plenty of time to dry off.
Handing out red plastic fire helmets, the Jersey City Fire Department also drew long lines of kids.
Representatives from various county law enforcement agencies were also on hand, offering information as well as offering to fingerprint kids. Parents keep the fingerprints should there ever be a future need for identification.
Groups like Bridgeway Rehabilitation, which has offices on nearby Central Avenue, provided information on mental health as well as offering a number of giveaways such a pill holders, tooth brushes, and hair brushes.
Georgina Anzivino, a service specialist for the state Department of Children and Families, provided information about their services that protect kids.
Formerly known as DYFS, the state agency provides strategies for parents and others to help alleviate issues that might otherwise lead to state intervention.
“These are things people can do to avoid our getting involved in a situation,” she said.

An annual tradition

The Jersey City Night Out was hosted by Mayor Steven Fulop, the Jersey City Police Department, the Police Officers’ Benevolent Association (P.O.B.A.), the Jersey City Police Superior Officers’ Association (P.S.O.A.), and the Jersey City Police Foundation.
National Night Out, “America’s Night Out Against Crime,” began in 1984 as an effort to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie, and to send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
National Night Out is held annually on the first Tuesday of August, and now involves more than 37.8 million people and 16,124 communities from all fifty states, U.S. Territories, Canadian cities, and military bases worldwide.
Additional sponsors for the event included the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Cultural Affairs, the Department of Recreation, the Department of Public Works, BJ’s Wholesale, Sysco, Aramark, Best Foods, and Target.
“One of the major keys to improving the quality of law enforcement in our communities is building relationships between our police and those individuals they protect,” said Mayor Fulop. “In Jersey City, we have made building a police department that reflects and understands the community a top priority, as we know our diversity is our greatest strength.”
“Our officers are working the streets and getting to know residents and business owners each and every day, but events like National Night Out are an added chance for us to meet with the community,” said Public Safety Director James Shea. “Anytime we can positively engage with those we serve, we are strengthening the dialogue between police and the community.”

More events

Police Spokesperson Nalls said the department intends to create additional opportunities for the public to interact in positive ways with the police.
“We’re having a ‘Unity in our Community’ barbeque in Lincoln Park on Aug. 7,” Nalls said.
This event will be held on the Communipaw Avenue area of the park from noon to 5 p.m. and is free. Along with good food, the event will have basketball games, potato sack races, water balloon tosses, and more.
On Aug. 10, the police will come together with the community for a bowling night at Hudson Lanes, 1 Garfield Avenue in Jersey City (on the Bayonne border.) This will cost $7.50 per person, including the shoe rental.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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