National Night Out events have been taking place at various police departments across the nation since 1984, and this year the Voorhees Township Police Department decided it was time to give it a try.
On Aug. 4 at the Voorhees Town Center, members of the police department, fire department, EMTs, department of public works, boy scouts, girl scouts, youth sports teams, community organizations, vendors, township officials, members of the community and more all came together as the VTPD hosted its inaugural National Night Out event.
The National Association of Town Watch, the national network of law enforcement agencies and civic groups that first started National Night Out, describes the events as community-building campaigns meant to make neighborhoods safer through promoting police-community partnerships.
VTPD Lt. Dennis Ober said building those relationships between the community and the township’s emergency services was a big reason why the VTPD decided to hold its own National Night Out event for the first time.
“It’s that familiarity and that community feel,” Ober said. “It’s just to say ‘hey, cops aren’t bad guys.’ We were kind of like rock stars after 9/11, and with recent headlines we’ve done a 180 in the eyes of some members of the public, so we’re just trying to put it out there that ‘hey, we’re still those good guys.’”
Ober said allowing the public to come and meet members of the police force in a relaxed setting and putting together officer’s faces and names could also help the department with future investigations.
“Maybe they’ll recognize us somewhere down the road and remember ‘hey, that guy wasn’t a bad guy,’ and maybe they’ll give us information or cooperate in investigations or feel easier contacting us with information about crimes,” Ober said.
Many children at the event could be seen walking around with a plastic fire helmets and police badges, and Ober said National Night Out events are also just good ways for families and kids to come out and have a fun time.
“Kids love fire trucks, and they love police cars, and we let kids get in and get their pictures taken- it’s all the stuff I wish they were doing when I was a kid,” Ober said.
When the event got underway, and exhibitions were set up as members of the public started to arrive, Ober said the crowd was starting to look great.
“We didn’t know if we were going to get 100 or 1000 people. We just really didn’t know, so were hoping this will be our barometer for future events, so I’m hoping we’re off to a good start,” Ober said.
According to Ober, the department also got a great response from various groups and organizations in the community as it was planning the event.
“We had a cutoff of a couple of weeks ago and we were still getting requests from people yesterday asking if they could come out, and we just had to tell them we weren’t sure we would have a table or not, so it got a big response,” Ober said.
With police K9 demonstrations, a car show, food, police cars, fire trucks, emergency services information and more, Ober said the event was really a one-stop shop for community interaction.
“Were hoping it’s a hit and hope that people remember the officers and we just get that familiarity out there and hopefully it keeps rolling,” Ober said.