Night Out strengthens relationships across the parish

National Night Out started as a grass roots event in Pennsylvania 34 years ago but has grown into a truly national

National Night Out started as a grass roots event in Pennsylvania 34 years ago but has grown into a truly national affair involving 16,000 communities across the U.S., complete with block parties, cook-outs, parades and festivals.

While the nationwide event is traditionally held in August, St. Tammany Parish communities celebrate National Night Out in October in order to take advantage of cooler, drier weather.

Representatives from all divisions of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office will attend events across the north shore, the majority of them taking place on Oct. 17. For members of law enforcement, Night Out is an important tool in building a strong and safe community.

“Participation in National Night Out serves multiple purposes," Sheriff’s Deputy Meredith Timberlake said. "It heightens crime prevention awareness, increases neighborhood support in anti-crime efforts and unites our communities. It's a chance to learn about crime prevention while spending time getting to know your neighbors and also allows for positive interaction with local law enforcement.”

Night Out events are varied, with neighborhoods and community associations putting their own spin on the event.

“Neighborhood events are independent of each other,” she said. “Each neighborhood’s organizers are charged with putting together their own event. They may range from simple get-togethers to elaborate celebrations with bounce houses and live entertainment.”

More than just a celebration, events across the parish have a lasting impact on the community through discussions of safety and education on law enforcement, Timberlake said.

“National Night Out allows the public to take a proactive approach toward crime prevention,” she said. "It gives law enforcement the opportunity to educate the public on crime prevention, including how to report crime as it occurs. It allows communities to meet their own neighbors, creating a more vigilant stance on crime.”

Police departments from St. Tammany's municipalities will get in on the action, too.

In Mandeville, the Night Out Against Crime (as the event often is called) will be held Oct. 17 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Mandeville Trailhead, 675 Lafitte St. The gathering will feature face painting, obstacle courses, a dunking booth, free food and music from DJ Shawny.

Mandeville Police Chief Gerald Sticker views the event as a way to not only connect with the community, but to also give thanks.

“Night Out Against Crime is important to the Mandeville Police Department because it gives us yet another opportunity to interact with the community and thank them for their year-round love and support,” he said.

“We enjoy a very good relationship with both our residential and business community. This is because the citizens are invested in this city, and the police officers are responsive to their quality of life issues. Ultimately our police department is only as successful as our citizens.”

Sticker encourages everyone to come together to enjoy Night Out, make connections with neighbors and celebrate the efforts of the entire community.

“The citizens of Mandeville expect a safe environment where they can raise their families and enjoy a very good quality of life, and the Mandeville Police Department will always strive to do our part to ensure this liberty,” he said.

“So I would encourage everyone to come out and participate, to visit with their police department and other public officials or just to enjoy the free food and fun family atmosphere.”

State Trooper Dustin Dwight, who will be in attendance with officers representing Louisiana State Police Troop L, echoed Sticker’s thoughts, noting that the relaxed atmosphere of Night Out gives an opportunity to connect with law enforcement officials on a personal level.

“Often times, an encounter with a trooper may be the result of a traffic stop, crash or otherwise tragic circumstance,” he said. “This setting allows both the troopers and the public a chance to interact in a fun and relaxed environment centered on making our communities safer and building relationships.

"It also affords the public an opportunity to get an up-close view of some of the equipment and services offered by the Louisiana State Police.”

While there are several Night Out celebrations across the city of Covington, residents in the River Forest neighborhood are launching a neighborhood celebration, from 5:30 until dark at the Kehoe-France school grounds.

“This is the very first year River Forest chose to participate,” association member Linda Hudson said. “I am new to this community. I moved in last year, so I decided to volunteer to be on our River Forest Civic Association Board and decided it was time for our association to serve our community better.

"We have the cooperation of our Chief Tim Lentz and Fire Chief Richard Badon and other city government leaders. We need to strengthen the relationships between the community and its local law enforcement. I believe we need to raise crime and drug prevention awareness and to work together as a community to do this.”

The River Forest event will feature free food, games and entertainment, along with the opportunity to speak directly with community leaders.

“We encourage people to come out to get to know your neighbors. It will be a lot of fun,” she said. “We will be providing free food, hot dogs and burgers, and there will be free swag giveaways and games, as well, for the kids."

Slidell District A City Councilman Glynn Pichon notes the importance of neighborhood and association involvement in the Night Out events as the first step in crime prevention and community building.

“The Night Out is one of the big events in Slidell for our associations,” he said. “Our residents are our first line of defense. Our community is very open and proactive in reporting crime and taking care of our neighbors.

“We have seen a growing relationship between our citizens and the Police Department. These events are a great way for people to get out and meet our first responders; kids really love to get out there and meet the police officers and firefighters. The community comes together; everyone turns their lights on. It’s a special night.”

While the emphasis is on crime prevention, Pichon has often seen unexpected friendships, both new and old, come about at these events.

"I went to one event a few years back, and there were two elderly gentlemen who had lost track over time," he said. "They didn’t realize they were still living in the same neighborhood. It was great to see them reconnect after so many years.”

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