Community, police band together

National Night Out events span 100 neighborhoods in the Bull City
Aug. 07, 2014 @ 12:03 PM

Tuesday night the Durham Police Department was out in full force. Officers, officials and other members of the department weren’t out canvassing for a crime. Instead they were out to meet the community and show their support for neighborhood watch programs – and in some cases that included dancing.

More than 100 neighborhoods around Durham participated in the annual National Night Out, a national crime and drug prevention event held at the neighborhood level.  

McDougald Terrace isn’t a stranger when it comes to NNO events. For the past few years Durham’s largest public housing unit has been inviting residents and neighbors to its own NNO celebration. North Carolina Central University also partners with McDougald to host the event.

“They came to us, to partner with us,” said Elaine Robinson, a member of the residential council at McDougald. She described the partnership as a blessing.

“They did so much, they helped out with so many things,” she said. NCCU helped provide tents for sponsors and freebies for those in attendance.

McDougald property manager Cheryle Roberts, said she’s been involved with NNO for about 20 years.

“It’s one night to take back the streets,” she said. To her, NNO is a chance to show criminals in the city that they’re not welcome.

“We want people to live comfortably,” she said.

NNO is also a family-oriented event. At McDougald Terrace, organizers set up blow-up bounce houses for the young ones. The family aspect can be a big draw for attendees.

Richelle Council is one of those mothers who came out because of her kids.

“(I’m out) just so the kids could enjoy themselves,” Council said. It’s also an opportunity for her kids to learn more about the community. There were sponsor tables set up for information about going back to school, and even the boy and girl scouts, which Council said is a big draw.

“It’s important (to attend), because they learn about a lot of different things,” she said. It also allows them to get involved in the community early on.

Police officials also get a chance to meet the community they serve.

Captains Al White and A.J. Carter of the NCCU Police Department have been involved with NNO since it began. Even though McDougald isn’t part of NCCU, they found it important to partner with the neighborhood because of the close proximity.

“I think it’s really an opportunity for the NCCU Police Department to really work in the community, and get to know the community,” White said.

It also helps eliminate the negative perceptions around any police force.

“Without the community, you’re not doing anything, the community is like the back bone,” White said.

“It’s also about fostering partnership,” Carter said. “We want to establish relationships, and maintain relationships.”

Throughout the year, Carter said, the police force depends on the community.

“It’s a good idea to show them that you appreciate them,” he said.

Carter also believes going into the community is a win-win situation for law enforcement and civilians.

“They can talk to us one-on-one, we can give them words of encouragement, and they can give us words of support and encouragement,” Carter said.

Police Chief Jose Lopez along with administrators from NCCU and Durham Public Schools and city/county government made their rounds in the city to show their support.

For Robbi Weinman, organizing an NNO event for her small Windsor Commons community was a must.

“I don’t think it matters whether it’s a small or large community, everyone needs to watch out for the personal and community safety,” she said. After someone recently tried to break into a house, she sees the need more than ever.

Weinman, a first-time NNO organizer, also helped organize her neighborhood watch. With the help of Durham police officers, she was able to get the ball rolling on other safety initiatives.

Even though the attempted break-in was the first in Windsor Commons it still showed the need to bring together the small community off Old Chapel Hill Road, a short trip from Shannon Plaza.

Weinman said many residents have been around for a handful of years, but new neighbors are moving in as more houses are built. NNO becomes an opportunity to bring together residents.

“(It’s) a great way for people to start to get to know each other,” she said. She organized a community pot luck in a green area in her neighborhood, so they wouldn’t block any traffic and could relax enjoy the company.

Jennifer Brown is a first-time organizer for another first-time community. She helped organize the Carolina Arbors’ block party. She said in a community like Carolina Arbors – which mostly has residents 55 years and older – safety is still a concern.

“It’s actually the contrary, for 55+ communities, they are very concerned about the safety,” Brown said. “They embraced it.”

Brown said many of those living in the community have lost a spouse. Safety becomes an even bigger concern since they might not have someone else living with them.

Brown said it brings the community together with those that protect it.

“It’s really a communication and a team effort between the police department and the people in the community,” Brown said.