National Night Out builds relations and understanding

Residents of Lincoln and around the nation came out Tuesday night to join their community and meet the men and women that serve and protect them.

National Night Out is a nation-wide event with the goal of allowing communities to not only come closer together but to meet with law enforcement and other emergency services their municipality provides. The event is an effort to create lasting relationships that are beneficial to both parties.

National Night Out began in 1984 with a Philadelphia man, Matt Peskin. Peskin launched his crime prevention initiative in an attempt to reduce violence within the city through community awareness and connection. Peskin’s idea quickly spread, expanding from 2.5 million people in 400 communities in 1984 to 32 million people in 9,530 communities in 1999.

National Night Out, the first Tuesday every August since its inception, has not only brought communities closer together but has helped police become more effective working within communities. A 1995 study done by the University of Chicago on the impact of “social efficacy”, the connectedness and willingness of communities to intervene for the common good, found that communities with high social efficacy had 40 percent less crime than other neighborhoods. Social efficacy is the primary of goal of National Night Out.

“We want people to know that we are the community too, that we live here as well” Captain Michon Morrow of the Lincoln Police Department said.

Having strong community relations helps law enforcement agencies in a number of ways, she said. Firstly and most directly, when a community feels they can trust the police department they also feel more comfortable coming forward as witnesses to crimes which help convict criminals and keep communities safe, Morrow said.

Community police relations also de-mystifies and personifies the police department, lowering anxieties that may be present in communities of historically marginalized people, Morrow said. Additionally, when law enforcement are able to interact with community they serve, it gives them a chance to build real connections with that community that will have long lasting impacts for the police, that individual and the entire community, Morrow said.

“One of the most important things that we do is try to build relationships with the people that we serve,” Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said.

National Night Out is not only about the police and communities interactions however. It also serves as a platform to get communities not only more connected but more engaged in the political process, to have their voices heard, said Bri McLarty, Director of Voting Rights at Nebraskans for Civic Reform. Nebraskans for Civic Reform were at the event Tuesday night helping get citizens registered to vote.

Impoverished communities historically have some of the lowest voter registration numbers and this can lead to laws being passed which not only don’t represent those communities views but indirectly work against them as citizens, McLarty said. When laws and policy don’t help citizens, it leads to disenfranchisement which just widens the gap between the residence of a city and its government and services, she said.

Additionally the communities coming together helps people share their views of the community and what is lacking and what needs to be done to help. This can lead to more directed action from elected officials with tailor made solutions to local issues, McLarty said.

“When everyone has a voice our communities can be stronger,” McLarty said.

Lincoln was not the only community to celebrate their emergency services Tuesday night. Social media was a buzz with people from across the nation as families and neighborhoods came together to meet, learn and appreciate the men and women working to keep them safe.

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