It had been years since Lauren Heath jumped rope, but when a game of double dutch started on the parking lot of the Uniondale fire house Tuesday night — with a gaggle of Nassau police officers looking on — the 26-year-old held her skirt and jumped in.
“With the events that are going on right now, it’s very important to have that partnership with the community and the police,” said Heath, who lives in Uniondale. “Everyone’s so friendly. I walked up to a couple of officers. Just listening to what they’re saying . . . That feels good. It’s just good to be around, have fun and jump double dutch and be around the community.”
The Uniondale event was one of about a dozen in Nassau and Suffolk counties in celebration of National Night Out, a nationwide initiative started in 1983 aimed at increasing dialogue between law enforcement and the communities they police.
It comes less than a month after police officers were killed in separate attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana — attacks that came after unrelated police-involved shootings that resulted in the deaths of black men — increasing tensions between law enforcement and some communities.
Wyandanch Park, too, transformed into a community hub Tuesday night when it hosted one of the celebrations.
The events, which featured music, food and dancing, are effective at breaking down barriers between citizens and officers, said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini.
“A lot of times when police interact with the public, it’s in a very hectic situation,” he said. “It’s always important to be further investing time in our community policing model.”
Donna Beavers, 41, a Wyandanch resident who came to the event, said: “We’re glad to come out and support anything that will reduce violence.”
Acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, appearing at the Uniondale event where hordes of children jumped in a bounce house and people ate hamburgers, said the department’s number one priority is improving police and community relations, which he said was evidenced by its investment in problem-oriented police officers or POP cops.
“I’d like to say it’s more important now,” said Krumpter, who said he plans to increase the number of POP cops from 16 to 36, after previously decreasing their ranks for budgetary reasons. “It’s all about building relationships with the community. And that by extension will build the trust.”
Nassau Sgt. Michael O’Mara supervises the POP cops in the First Precinct and said they’re one of the department’s most valuable assets.
“There’s better ways to fix the community’s problems than locking up that one guy,” said O’Mara, who received recognition at the event for his policing. “I work a 10-hour day, but I get phone calls on my days off, at 2 o’clock in the morning from community leaders. This job has really turned into something bigger than I ever imagined it would be.”