Led by revving motorcycles and steel drummers and trailed by a fire truck, Westbury residents marched with police officers to mingle at a park, one of about a dozen National Night Out events held on Long Island Tuesday.
“I like the fact that the officers are out, and I like to familiarize relations,” said Nicole Jolly, 46, of Hempstead. “It kind of breaks that tension that we always see on television.”
The National Night Out effort began in 1984 as a way to bridge the gap between local law enforcement agencies and the community. What started as a night when people would turn on their porch lights and sit outside to mingle has now grown to a national event that includes block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and other community events.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, who attended the Westbury event and planned to attend several other gatherings Tuesday, recalled that he began his career in Westbury 32 years ago when crack was the drug of choice.
The value of National Night Out events might unfold slowly, he said, but its increments count.
“You can’t put a price on building one relationship,” he said. “If it starts with 10 people, it’s 10 people better than last year.”
Several hundred people joined Westbury’s marchers at Martin “Bunky” Reid Park, enjoying the food and speeches.
“It’s like a togetherness, I always like to see that we can all get together for a beautiful evening,” Richard Simmons, Sr., 71, of Westbury, said.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who attended a similar gathering in Brentwood, said her department had seen crime rates decrease as they implemented more community outreach programs.
"We’re all safer when we’re working together,” she said.
At the Brentwood event, residents trickled into the Ross Brentwood High School football field to talk with police officers, shop from local vendors, play carnival games and tour an official police helicopter.
"All of the vendors have been super, super awesome," Melissa McMullen, 37, of Central Islip, said. "My kids have had a really great time."
Suffolk County police Officer Pete Rivera said the department staged the event in collaboration with local organizations to build bridges between police and the community.
"In order to make a community safe you need police involvement and community involvement," said Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez, a Brentwood native and Brentwood High School alumna. "Our children need to know that they live in a community that will empower them to be something big."
Marlin Guevara, 39, of Brentwood, said she attended the event to support local police, especially since her 17-year-old son had joined the Police Explorers.
"We need to support the police, our heroes," she said. "There’s a lot of things going on with them and I think we need to support them."
Police have recently increased their presence in the Brentwood area due to reports of MS-13 gang violence and attempts to recruit at the school.
"We’re big supporters of Brentwood, Central Islip, and the anti-gang movement," McMullen said. "We don’t think that It should scare our children and our families away from being at events because of things that happen."