City gears up for National Night Out celebration

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

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Suffolk is preparing its annual celebration of community partnership with law enforcement and first responders — National Night Out.

Activities are planned in neighborhoods across the city from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1, as they join communities nationwide as NNO marks its 40th anniversary. The event grew out of a desire to strengthen the bond between residents and safety officials, while increasing awareness to crime, drug and violence prevention.

Ahead of the celebration, National Night Out Committee Chair and Suffolk Director of Media and Communications Jennifer Moore, Chief of Police Alfred S. Chandler, Jr. and Fire Chief Michael J. Barakey each shared why this year’s NNO is important.

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Moore noted that 25 locations across the city are participating in the celebration.

“Lakeland High School is participating, further strengthening our relationship with the City of Suffolk and the Suffolk Public Schools systems,” she said. “We’ve got the civic league, homeowners association, the downtown business association, a lot of representation in the downtown area of organizations and businesses and groups that just want to do their own thing and it’s going to be fun.”

Last year’s NNO was a huge achievement for Suffolk as the city ranked third in the nationwide celebration of saying no to crime. For inspiration for this year’s event, Moore said there’s nowhere to go but up.

“We are very quickly going to move up in our population category – we’re right there at the cusp – so we have a feeling this might be the last year in this population category and we just really want to go out on top,” Moore said. 

Chandler noted the event’s importance in providing citizens transparency and positive connections with their local law enforcement.

“National Night Out is one of those times that we love as police officers. This is our opportunity to get out with our citizens. There’s not a problem. There’s no crisis and really get out and work with our partners in the community,” Chandler said. “Get out and meet them, greet them, spend time with them. I think it’s incredibly valuable to our city’s safety. Our citizens show us such an incredible amount of love and respect and this is our opportunity to really just have some time to meet them out there.”

Barakey said that during NNO, the fire department will have a fire truck and personnel at each of the 25 locations offering residents the opportunity to casually engage with first responders.

“They realize that the firefighters and paramedics are just normal citizens, people who love the city, love engaging with [the] community,” he said. “Like Chief Chandler said, many times they only meet firefighters and paramedics at that worst time of their day or whole life and to see that they’re just citizens serving in a capacity of taking care of people, but loving hot dogs and cornhole.”

Barakey also reflected on children taking on the police and fire department at last year’s one-legged hopscotch competition.

“The kids that were doing it smoked us and they challenged our fitness a little bit,” he said. “In that case they realized that we’re just dads and husbands and wives and daughters and we love everybody in the city. That’s what we value and that’s what we give to the citizens, it’s just people serving people.”

All three shared their individual hopes for this year’s NNO. 

Reflecting on a physician noting how they rather visit their patients when they’re well, Barakey said he would rather visit residents when everything is fine.

“It’s a beautiful night, the atmosphere is wonderful, it’s festive. I rather meet them there and describe to them what we offer outside of just responding to a building fire or medical emergency or a crash. We’re there for you, our stations are open,” he said. “Bring your children, bring your loved ones to the firehouse. We want to demonstrate that we are open and that we’re there for them and get that word out there.”

Chandler believes it’s about meeting new friends.

“National Night Out provides us an opportunity to engage with people who may never have a positive encounter with police or encounter at all. So this gives us an opportunity to come into a space and meet somebody and let them know who we really are,” he said. “It’s kind of like Chief Barakey said, we’re dads and brothers and neighbors. We are a part of this community. So one of the best things to come out of National Night Out is really forging and bonding those relationships with our citizens so they know who the person behind the badge really is.”

Moore agreed with the chiefs, while also noting the ability to have residents more comfortable in engaging with their law officials on reporting serious issues such as Project 365’s “See it, report it.”

“If you see something, anything within your community, the City of Suffolk, Suffolk Police Department, Suffolk Fire and Rescue, we have a laundry list of ways that you can report a tip,” she said. “Whether it’s suspicious behavior or if you think you witnessed a crime or something that doesn’t seem right. You can report that, and it may be nothing but it may be something. And this is our neighborhood too and we all want the same things. We all want a safe community to live, work, play and raise our families.”

Moore believes positive things can come from this year’s celebration.

“I hope that National Night Out, and I hope this every year, that it strengthens that relationship between our citizens and the city as a whole,” Moore said. “The second thing I hope for is to win number one.” 

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