National Night Out Returns To Area

BERLIN – Like residents in similar communities all over the country, Berlin residents next week will have the opportunity to put aside fear and suspicion for at least one day and get out in their community to enjoy the annual “National Night Out” against crime in their neighborhoods.

Residents in Berlin are encouraged next Tuesday to lock their doors, turn on outside lights and get out in their neighborhoods to participate in the 25th annual National Night Out. Similar events are planned in nearly 10,000 communities across the country. The theme for the event this year is “Giving Crime and Drugs a Going Away Party” and hundreds of Berlin residents will likely turn out to participate in the send-off.

The National Night Out program is designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, strengthen neighborhood spirit, foster an improved relationship between the community and its police force, and perhaps most importantly, send a message to criminals letting them know neighborhoods are organizing and fighting back.

The latter is already going on in the east Berlin neighborhoods known as hot spots for criminal activity. A neighborhood watch program renewed two years ago has already made strides in reducing crime and allowing residents there to take back their streets and parks, and Tuesday’s National Night Out festivities will celebrate those achievements.

Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said this week the National Night Out program will serve to reinforce the strong anti-crime message fostered by the neighborhood watch program.

“The big mission is to get everybody to know they are a vital part of their community,” he said. “This is about quality of life. This is about getting people out of their homes and away from the suspicion and fear and out in the open where they can feel safe and interact with their neighbors.”

Berlin will join other communities in Worcester County participating in National Night Out next week including Ocean City, Snow Hill and Pocomoke. The festivities in Berlin will be held on Tuesday from 4-8 p.m. in Henry Park, which will be turned into a carnival-like atmosphere of educational and health screening booths, children’s activities, rides, games and great local food.

Downing said the National Night Out provides an opportunity for the people of the community to interact with its police force in an informal setting. The Berlin Police Chief said the event presents a chance to break down the perceived barriers between the residents of the community and the town’s police officers.

“We really look forward to it each year,” he said. “So often, there is this unsaid, unwritten adversarial relationship between a community and its police officers, but this gives us the opportunity to interact with people in an informal setting. Without a uniform or a badge between them, the officers can interact with residents on a more personal level.”

Downing said there is more to National Night Out than its crime and drug prevention message. A wide variety of local agencies and social service providers will also be on hand with health screening booths, pamphlets, brochures and other information available.

“Many of our partners in the community will be out there from AGH to Worcester County Youth and Family Services to Sand Castles and even Home Depot,” he said. “It provides an opportunity for those agencies to get the word out about what services are available to the people of the community. This is all about outreach.”

Essentially, National Night Out is about opening the lines of communication and inviting some segments to get out and meet their neighbors in an atmosphere free of suspicion and fear.

“This is a chance for everybody to come together and present a unified message,” said Downing. “This is about feeling safe in our communities all year long.”

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