TROY — “National Night Out” now serves as an annual tradition to bring communities together across America, and the Troy Police Department is now using the event to engage with the community in an innovative means of outreach.
In past years, the Troy Police Auxiliary held a single organized event at Troy City Park for “National Night Out.” According to school resource officer Jeff Waite, the department switched to a “more interactive neighborhood approach in 2017,” encouraging participating neighborhoods to host their own block party and allow residents to interact with officers right at home.
“It gets us into a position where we can have a positive interaction with people, especially kids,” said school resource officer Jeff Waite. “It’s important when a patrol car pulls up that children associate that positively. The whole goal of these events are to build a relationship between the department and the community so that communication can stay open.”
“I’ve been referring to these events as ‘police-community engagement meetings,’” said Patrolman Joel Misirian. “People are open to ask questions, discuss things going on in their neighborhood, and otherwise have approachability with officers they may not often get.”
Waite indicated that this year’s outreach, held on Tuesday evening during “National Night Out” hours, doubled in participating locations compared to last year.
“There were six last year, and this year we’re holding 12,” Waite said. “We hope to increase that number even more for 2019.”
Garden Manors Community Apartments, who held their first “National Night Out” event as organized by Partners in Hope representative Sonya Holycross, were able to negotiate 25 Papa John’s pizzas and several cases of bottled water as refreshments, along with 10 bicycles from J&D Bicycles to be raffled off to residents. All negotiations came through existing partnerships with the Troy Police Department.
According to Misirian, the event arose out of a rapport built between the department and the complex board.
“Over the last several years, I’ve been meeting with residents at the Garden Manors complex, along with Partners in Hope’s representatives,” Misirian said. “We talked about reported incidents to police that have come up in the complex, and some ways we could resolve those things. The board that oversees the complex has put up surveillance cameras, which is a great addition. We’ve already solved some crimes using those cameras.”
In addition to surveillance cameras, the board also elected to implement “neighborhood watch” signs on the grounds, which were unveiled in conjunction with Tuesday’s neighborhood event.
“The ‘neighborhood watch’ signs are good for letting residents know there are other residents that care about their neighborhood,” Misirian said. “It lets others know there are people who care, are watchful, and aren’t afraid to get help if they need it. ‘National Night Out’ was a chance for them to unveil that, and keep that partnership in queue with the things we’ve been meeting about.”
Misirian indicated that officers involved in this outreach often provide pointers on neighborhood crime prevention, such as leaving exterior lights on at night, making sure doors are locked, and making sure landscaping is orderly and allows visibility.
“It’s a conversation or dialogue, as opposed to us telling people what to do,” Misirian said.
Officers noted that the outreach program does not serve as a replacement for standard police contact.
“We don’t want to imply we’re ever not there for them,” Misirian said. “If people need us, they should always call. A big value of this outreach, though, is it’s a more informal way of interaction that often puts people at ease. There shouldn’t be, but often there’s a stigma associated with the police. In Miami County, the only way to get ahold of an officer, even for a non-emergency, is to call 911. It’s just the way the system’s set up, and many people don’t want to tie up the line if it’s a non-emergency.
“Events like this allow for us to come into neighborhoods and interact with people in a more approachable way that they don’t feel like its a bother. Ive gotten a lot of great responses, and the approachability has been great. People come to me and tell me things on their mind or bring up questions they have. Some want to know if certain activities are illegal or not. We can’t offer legal advice, but if we can steer people in the right direction or point them toward resources, that’s what we’re there for.”
Both Misirian and Waite expressed enthusiasm for the program to grow, and that those interested may reach out through the department’s Facebook page.
“If people in various subdivisions are interested in having a police-community engagement meeting, they can always reach out,” Misirian said. “In conjunction with that, those would be neighborhoods that may then see an interest in participating in ‘National Night Out’ next year.”
“National Night Out,” celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2018, is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make each neighborhood a safer and more caring place to live.
For more information, visit www.natw.org, or find Troy Ohio Police Department on Facebook.