Kids entwined their fingers in the rungs of the cyclone fence, pressing their faces against it to get a better view of three cops in the parking lot outside Miller Stadium who were literally taking apart a car.
No one was in the car. The officers, using tools designed to help extricate a passenger trapped in a disabled vehicle, were showing off their skills before several hundred people.
This was one of the many events at this year’s annual National Night Out Against Crime in West New York on Aug. 2 at Miller Stadium.
Communities across the country host National Night Out events on one day each year so that the police and the public can interact and show they’re vigilant about crime.
Although this was among the most dramatic of the presentations, the police and city had plenty of other things to educate and entertain kids with.
Inside the stadium, kids had a variety of entertainments that included balloons, face painting, popcorn, cotton candy, raffles for prizes and much more. Those who brought a bicycle, scooter, or skateboard also received a free helmet.
But the night was more than just about having fun. It was an opportunity for people from the community to mingle with and get to know the police and other law enforcement personnel that protect them.
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, and neighborhood camaraderie, and send a message to criminals to let them know 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.
Cops and kids get along here
In a year in which there have been numerous confrontations between police and people of color nationwide – including deliberate assassination of cops in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere, West New York police have had mostly good relations with the community.
“We have cops in our schools who talk to the kids all the time. The cops know the kids and the kids know the cops.” – Jonathan Castaneda
“We’ve never had those kinds of issues here,” said Adam Parkinson, president of the West New York Board of Education. “Most of our police here grew up in West New York. When you have a town that is a mile long in each direction, everybody knows who everybody else is. The police have always been part of the community.”
Jonathan Castaneda, a school board trustee, said teachers and administrators from the West New York School District took an active part on the night’s events.”
“We have cops in our schools who talk to the kids all the time,” he said. “The cops know the kids and the kids know the cops.”
Town staff and community organizations set up tables inside the stadium to provide information relating to crime prevention, drug and violence prevention, health, and safety.
Women for West New York were one of these, an established organization that helps West New York residents in need. Vice President Deedee Morrall and President Doreen Moran said they are seeking to help residents with problems they might have.
A Rutgers-based health program had a table to teach kids about the calorie counts in soft drinks and stressed the necessity of regular exercise.
“We work with West New York, Jersey City and other places in the county,” said Michelle Jansen, program supervisor.
She said teens by age 13 have already reached a point where they are slacking off in exercise, and this has a huge impact on them, especially females, later in life.
As with last year, many kids were fascinated by the large surplus military truck the city has obtained from the federal government. Military trucks of this kind are extremely useful during floods because their exhaust runs along a vent near the top of the cab unlike more conventional vehicles with exhaust pipes near the ground. During Hurricane Sandy, many city vehicles could not travel the waterfront area. With this truck, rescue workers can.
One of the more popular tables allowed kids to handle simulated training weapons and other gear used by police in emergency situations. Painted a light brick color to keep them from being mistaken for the real thing, the weapons are typically used in training exercises, officers said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org