Communities from coast to coast recently united on October 3 for a time-honored tradition known as National Night Out, an annual event designed to promote police-community partnerships, build neighborhood trust and strengthen the bond between law enforcement officers and the people they serve.
Celebrated in various cities and towns throughout the country, this year’s National Night Out was held by many agencies in early October, instead of the traditional August, reminding the public of the vital role law enforcement plays in the community.
In Tyler, Texas, families and law enforcement officers came together at the City of Tyler Municipal Court Building for the 40th annual block party, hosted by the Tyler Police and Fire Department.
Children, like 10-year-old Kamari Barrett, were given the opportunity to hold a U.S. Marshals ballistic shield, gaining a newfound appreciation for the weight officers carry both literally and metaphorically.
Kamari’s mother, Denise Hampton, said it was important to understand that officers face their own struggles, and National Night Out serves as a platform to humanize them.
“[Law enforcement officers] all go through things too, just like we do,” Hampton said. “They go through more. Some of them can’t sleep at night. Some of them are battling other things.”
National Night Out, created in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), has grown to encompass millions of neighborhoods across thousands of communities in all fifty states.
The event offers a chance for the community to come together with law enforcement in a casual, safe environment, fostering connections beyond emergency situations, while offering important crime and drug prevention activities for the public to engage in.
“We are people,” said Andy Erbaugh, Tyler Police Department public information officer. “We’d rather have that time where I can go eat a hamburger with you and communicate with you about what’s going on, how your life is going and chat with you as a person.”
The core message of National Night Out is to teach children and adults not to be afraid of law enforcement officers and to encourage them to seek help when needed.
Officials also said the event was an opportunity to remind everyone that the actions of a few should not define the entire profession.
“It’s showing my son that we still need [police] officers and the fire department, and don’t discriminate against those who help in the community. They’re really here to help us and keep us protected,” Hampton explained. “One bad apple, but it doesn’t mean everyone is bad. I choose to support them, and I love being around them.”
In Reno, Nevada, the community joined law enforcement agencies for their own National Night Out event, aiming to enhance trust between residents and first responders.
Police Chief Kathryn Nance said the event humanizes her force, allowing children to see themselves in future law enforcement roles.
“Not only in time of crisis or need, but really it’s at any point in time,” Police Chief Nance said about how the event humanizes her force. “It’s a really good experience to see little kids that come up and say things like, “Oh, you’re a lady policeman? I could be a policeman too when I grow up,” she added.
First responders at the event noted the positive interactions with the community, such as when officers played a game of football with kids.
In various other towns, police departments hosted events filled with activities, demonstrations and opportunities for families to interact with officers in a friendly atmosphere.
In North Carolina, the Greenville Police Department held their event at the town common, bringing food trucks and music to entertain attendees.
In addition, the Havelock Police Department and the Nags Head Police Department each hosted events with music and a wide variety of activities for children to participate in.
As the National Night Out celebrations carried on, many in the community sought to show their appreciation and support for law enforcement officers who often put their lives on the line to protect their communities, especially in times of crisis.
This year, in Knoxville, Tennessee, the event took on a more somber tone following the recent loss of Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy Tucker Blakely, who was fatally shot while responding to a domestic situation.
Despite the tragedy, the community came together to express their gratitude and love for their local law enforcement.
“The times we need to show love and grace to each other are not in the easy times, but it’s in the difficult times,” Pastor Mike Segers said. “It’s important for them, at least in my opinion, to know that we appreciate them and appreciate the sacrifice that they make, and appreciate their effort in trying to keep our community and our homes safe.”