Police, public join forces at National Night Out

August 02, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |
  • Tayshaun Fulton-Powell, 7, left, and Chaz Keyes, 9, check out the Washington County Special Response Team vehicle Tuesday night at the National Night Out event at Hagerstown's Fairgrounds Park.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — National Night Out might have been fun Tuesday, but it was not all games.

Beyond the recreation, a delicate relationship was growing stronger as Hagerstown police officers and the public met on common ground.

Hagerstown joined communities across the nation by hosting National Night Out, which is aimed at stemming the tide of crime through community-police partnerships, awareness and open dialogue.

“Police can’t do it all by themselves,” Hagerstown Police Department Chief Arthur Smith said recently. “A cop that thinks they can do it alone is lacking in perspective.”

Police need the public, Smith said.

Officers rely on willing witnesses who feel enough ownership of their neighborhood to come forward with information when a crime occurs, he said.

Working with police requires trust, said Carolyn Brooks, coordinator of Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement, or CSAFE, and organizer of Hagerstown’s National Night Out.

However, trust between police and the community is not built overnight, she said. It takes consistency and events like the one Tuesday to show what she called the “softer side of law enforcement.”

After all, not everyone views police the way 12-year-old Charles of Hagerstown does.

“Police, man, they help stop crimes, that is why it makes me feel safe,” he said.  

Charles said he thinks too many people see police officers in a negative way.

“But I totally don’t think that,” he said. “Personally, I have a couple of friends who are cops, like Deputy Dan.”

For children, National Night Out helps reinforce the lesson that officers are to be trusted, not feared, said Amber Myers of Hagerstown.

Encountering an armed officer can be intimidating. But meet that same officer in Fairgrounds Park when he or she is wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and the person behind the badge emerges, Officer Gerard Kendle said.

“We’re trying to get the community more at ease with the police department,” he said.

While National Night Out builds trust between police and the public, it also builds a sense of community, Brooks said.

Sharon Allgood and Florine Foster are neighbors in Hagerstown who came to the event together Tuesday.

Often referred to as their “neighborhood watch,” the two women, who are both originally from New York, said the size of Hagerstown makes it easier to know your neighbors and neighborhood police officers.

“Being that it is so small ... you do remember people when you see them,” Allgood said.

“It makes me feel like home,” Foster said.

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