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National Night Out Against Crime: How It All Started, And Celebrated, All Over Brooklyn August 2

Nationwide celebration arose during the high-crime '80s

August 1, 2022 Jaime DeJesus, Brooklynreporter.com
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It’s the time of year when neighbors celebrate their local police officers.

Along with the rest of the country, police precincts in Brooklyn will once again share good times with local citizens during the National Night Out Against Crime on Tuesday evening.

The annual event is designed to take a stand against crime by celebrating with a night of music, games for children, rides and information. Here in New York City, the NYPD seeks to strengthen the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement, fostering a true sense of community.

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This will be NNO’s 39th annual year in existence. Its roots go far back as the early 1980s’

The National Association of Town Watch (NATW) — a nonprofit whose goal is to provide community watch groups the necessary information, resources and assets to stay informed — was founded in 1981 in Pennsylvania.

This young man enjoys himself while he sits at the wheel of a police car at a National Night Out event in the 68th Precinct. Eagle Urban Media file photo

According to the NATW/National Night Out website (natw.org), National Night Out was introduced in August 1984 through an already-established network of law enforcement agencies, neighborhood watch groups, civic groups, state and regional crime prevention associations and volunteers across the nation.

Matt Peskin, president of NATW/National Night Out, explained the history of Night Out during an interview on a YouTube channel called Ten at the Top, sponsored by a like-named nonprofit organization promoting South Carolina’s Upstate region. 

“In the mid-’80s, I had this idea basically from the Association of Town Watch,” he explained. “In 1984, I proposed this idea to the board, and the thinking behind it was that there are thousands of crime watch groups across the country, but they were kind of like little foxholes all over the place. No one really knew who they were.”

He presented the organization’s board with the idea of having one night per year when everybody across the country gets out on their front porch or stoop, puts on their lights and sits outside for an hour.

“As opposed to their neighbors and being partners with law enforcement, people were more concerned about putting bars on their windows and getting security systems,” he said. “All good things, but losing the point and losing the war to criminals, so I said we’ll all go out, put our lights on and see how much crime there is.”

The NATW got enough chiefs from enough major cities to understand what they were presented. And the initiative grew from there.

Police officers pose with traditional Chinese performers at the 72nd Precinct in Sunset Park. Eagle Urban Media file photo

“As the years went on, we promoted the idea of the block parties and the cookouts and the festivals and getting kids involved,” Peskin said. “People started to love it. Slowly this became the first responders’ version of July 4. It’s a big party. 

“People meet each other, they meet first responders. They get to know everyone better. One night isn’t going to solve something but the next time you see something or somebody has a problem or someone you meet on NNO, there are tons of benefits,” he added.

The event always takes place on the first Tuesday in August everywhere except for Texas, due to the excessive heat there.

Southern Brooklyn has seen a strong presence for the event, especially last year when it returned after the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.

“The strongest impression I get from National Night Out is that it’s one event where the whole precinct can come together and seniors have as much fun as families with young children,” David Estrada, executive director of the Sunset Park Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, said last year at the 72nd Precinct’s NNO event in Sunset Park. 

“You’re as likely to see a small child in a jaguar costume cracking a whip for a traditional Mexican dance troupe as acrobatic Chinese lion dancers making their creatures gobble up lettuce from the end of a long pole held by the 72nd Precinct’s Capt. Ernesto Castro,” he added.

Matt Peskin (right), president of National Association of Town Watch/National Night Out, speaks to a police officer. Photo courtesy of natw.org

Brooklyn has plenty of National Night Out events planned. 

The 68th Precinct, which serves Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, will hold its event at Owl’s Head Park, Colonial Road, from 6 to 9 p.m.  It will include rides, raffles, food, music and more.

The 76th Precinct, which serves Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, Cobble Hill, parts of Gowanus and the Columbia Street Waterfront District, will hold its event in Coffey Park from 4 to 7 p.m. The event, which is co-sponsored by the Red Hook Community Justice Center, will include music, food, pony rides, face painting and more activities.

The 84th Precinct, which serves Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill and Vinegar Hill, has scheduled its event for Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5, 334 Furman Street from 5 to 9 p.m. Activities include face painting, ice cream, barbeque, a DJ providing music, and crime prevention information.

The NNO event for the 78th Precinct, which serves Park Slope and also covers Prospect Park, will be held at Grand Army Plaza from 6 to 8 p.m.

For a full list of locations and sites in New York City, click here.


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