Communities come out against crime during National Night Out
Anthony Jara, left, of Niles, and his brother, Nick, play in water being sprayed by Niles firefighters Aug. 7 during National Night Out at Washington Park. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2012 1:51PM
A police officer is drenched over and over again by broken water balloons in a game requiring children to throw a ball and hit the appropriate target.
In a park less than 4 miles away classical Indian dances and a Punjabi-infused Bollywood number are performed before a rapt audience.
Both are representations of how two communities marked the recent National Night Out, each providing very different ways of encouraging residents to come together and establish a rapport with their local police.
Joining thousands of communities across the country, Park Ridge, Niles and unincorporated Maine Township on Aug. 7 each commemorated National Night Out — America’s Night Out Against Crime. In each case the ultimate goal is bringing neighbors together while taking a symbolic stand against criminals.
In Park Ridge that meant opening up Hodges Park and the streets around City Hall to a petting zoo, bounce house, disc-jockey, mini-train, a “dunk-a-cop” game with water balloons, doughnut-eating contest, give-aways and a race between four mascots — McGruff the Crime Dog; Skates, of Chicago Wolves hockey fame; Maine East’s Blue Demon; and Harley the Hawk from Maine South — to name just a few of the activities.
For Police Chief Frank Kaminski the festivities are all a way to create “a sense of community” and allow citizens to better-know the officers who are protecting them.
“I would like them to have a very favorable impression of the Police Department, that we’re here trying to build community and a partnership with them,” Kaminski said.
The success of such an endeavor can’t really be quantified, the police chief said, but resident turnout and the fact that, according to department officials, nearly the entire event is funded through donations, are indicators.
“Isn’t that what we want to be as a community? A community that comes together and supports an initiative for the betterment of the community?” Kaminski asked.
For Gerry Repak, a 50-year resident of Park Ridge, National Night Out is a good way for children to get to know the police and understand that if they need help, police officers are there.
“And as a senior citizen I like them, too,” she added. “We know we can depend on them if we need them.”
Consisting largely of families with small children, attendance got an added boost this year due to local Girl Scouts being invited to line the steps of City Hall during an opening ceremony. For Aimee Kolz and Stephanie Purcell, both mothers of 6-year-old scouts, this was the first time they had attended National Night Out.
“I think it’s fun and I think the kids are having fun running around,” Purcell said.
This was Park Ridge’s eighth annual National Night Out celebration, but it was unincorporated Maine Township that coordinated the very first local Night Out in 1993 in response to concerns about gang-related crime. Nationwide, National Night Out is now in its 29th year.
Like Kaminski, Maine Township Supervisor Carol Teschky said she hopes residents establish “a sense of community” through attending Night Out activities.
“This is their community and they should take pride in it,” she said.
This year the largely South Asian crowd, reflecting the population of the neighborhood, gathered around a stage set up in the middle of Dee Park to watch members of the Kalapadma dance troupe, from preschoolers to teenagers, perform classical Indian dance and, later, Bollywood-style moves.
Organized by Susan Moylan Krey, a township trustee, Maine Township’s National Night Out also featured a Cook County Sheriff’s Police helicopter flying overhead and visits by Sheriff’s Police officers, the North Maine Fire Department, Maine Township Office of Emergency Management volunteers and township officials.
Posters created by local children lined a fence near the park’s splash pad, all created following the theme, “Be a buddy, not a bully.”
Just a few miles to the east, at Washington Park in Niles, citizens were also celebrating National Night Out with music, games and an obstacle course giving participants the illusion of what it is like to drive a golf cart while intoxicated.
Niles Police Sgt. Robert Tornabene said one of the goals of his department’s Night Out program is to strengthen the bond between police and the community so citizens are comfortable calling the department to report crimes or provide tips. This, along with the use of new technology, is proving effective, he said.
“Because we have embraced technology and social media in a broader sense, it has definitely improved our communication and it has improved the ability to participate and offer help when necessary,” Tornabene said.
The event can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000, Tornabene said, though this year $1,000 of the expense was covered by donations, while Target also provided gift cards to children who successfully dunked the village manager in the dunk tank.
For Niles resident Slavica Radisic, National Night Out allowed her son, Filip, 6, to practice calling 911 and giving his address to the person on the other end of the line, but it was also an opportunity for him to see his favorite heroes in person.
“He loves the firefighters,” Radisic shared. “He’s saying, ‘I want to be a firefighter.’ ”
Outside law enforcement and community partnerships, National Night Out events serve other purposes, as well. Local businesses, organizations and municipalities can market themselves, as evidenced by the rows of tables lining the west side of Hodges Park, providing everything from stickers and Italian ice samples to free massages.
Like many public gatherings there is also a political element to National Night Out. In Maine Township, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was one of the featured guests, while volunteers wore bright-orange T-shirts with the name of Highway Commissioner Robert Provenzano embossed on them.
At the end of the night, though, each National Night Out event is about the community, according to organizers.
“It’s important we do these things,” Kaminski said.