OCEAN CITY — Like citizens in similar communities all over the country, local residents and visitors next week will have the opportunity to put aside fear and suspicion for at least one day and get out in their neighborhoods to enjoy “National Night Out,” a decades-old event that perhaps has more meaning this year than ever.
Residents in communities all over the shore and across the country are encouraged next Tuesday to unlock their doors, turn on their outside lights and get out in their communities to meet their neighbors and the law enforcement officers and other agencies that protect them in an informal setting. National Night Out has been held on the first Tuesday of August since 1984 and is now celebrated in over 16,000 communities across the nation.
The recurring theme has always been creating community bonds, meeting neighbors one otherwise passes leaving or coming home from work, interacting with and learning about representatives from the various programs in available including healthcare and social services, and perhaps most importantly, getting to know the police and first-responders who protect them. 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 send a message to criminals letting them know neighborhoods are organizing and fighting back.
In Berlin, the annual celebration will be held in Henry Park along Flower Street near Route 113 from 4-7 p.m. The event will be an informal community picnic of sorts with food, live music, numerous displays from area organizations, educational booths and medical screening by the local medical community and balloon bounces and other fun activities for kids.
The intent is to bring people out of their homes and into the park to meet and greet their neighbors, learn about the various resources available to them and send a message that crime and illegal activity won’t be tolerated. The event will allow the public to interact with their local police department on an informal basis. If ever a nation or even an individual community needed an event in the spirit of National Night Out, this might be the year.
“That purpose hasn’t changed,” said Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing this week. “This year, it might be more significant based on what has happened nationally and globally. It gives us an opportunity to get out and meet with people and get kids involved, but it’s not just a one-day event. Any time we have the opportunity to meet with and interact with our citizens, we want to take advantage of that.”
Downing said the informal nature of National Night Out helps break down some of the perceived barriers between some in the community and the police officers sworn to protect them and helps humanize officers typically seen by some as a uniform and a badge.
“The community gets to see our officers in their shorts and T-shirts and it’s an opportunity for citizens to see we are more like them than different from them,” he said. “People tend to like to emphasize the differences and this is an opportunity to see how much we are all the same.”
Downing encouraged all residents to come out and celebrate the spirit of National Night Out.
“It’s a three-hour event, but it doesn’t have to be that long of a commitment,” he said. “Come for 10 or 15 minutes. Stop in and say hello and grab a bite to eat and listen to some music.”
Similar events will be held in residential communities in Ocean City, just as they have for years. Like Berlin, National Night Out in Ocean City presents an opportunity for residents and visitors to meet and interact with the police officers who protect their neighborhoods. Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said his department is looking forward to having the opportunity to meet all residents and visitors at National Night Out events on Tuesday.
“National Night Out has become a tremendous tradition in Ocean City where citizens can get to know their neighbors and our officers that patrol their communities,” he said. “In light of recent events across our country, it is now more important than ever to come together to greet one another and celebrate the safe community that we enjoy.”
National Night Out events in Ocean City have been held for many years in the Caine Woods and Bayshore Drive neighborhoods, but this year the Montego Bay community is joining the effort to bring neighbors together. The events will be held on Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. and the various locations will feature informal, laid back picnics. Buzzuro and his officers will rotate between the events and Mayor and Council members will also participate.
The OCPD will have tables set up for citizens to register their bicycles, kids will have the opportunity to write thank you notes to officers and residents and visitors will have an opportunity to look through police cruisers at all three locations. There will also be a K-9 demonstration at the Caine Woods venue.