Brooklynites took to the streets Tuesday for this year’s “National Night Out Against Crime,” with more than a dozen community-building events hosted by the borough’s police precincts.
Established in the 1980’s, National Night Out takes place on the first Tuesday of every August, and aims to strengthen police-community relations and educate locals about crime and its prevention.
At gatherings throughout the borough, Brooklynites mingled with their local cops and neighbors while learning about local organizations, digging into free food and enjoying live entertainment.
“We stand up for our communities united”
Governor Kathy Hochul joined the 78th Precinct, which oversees Park Slope and much of Prospect Park, at Grand Army Plaza, where kids slurped snow cones and climbed an inflatable rock climbing wall as the adults strolled through a collection of classic cars.
“I thank you for bringing the kids out here, because this is where they’re gonna learn the lessons. The lessons of life, of how we look out for each other. We stand up for our communities united,” Hochul said. “Together we send a message that these are our communities, and we will stand up against anyone who tries to violate the safety of this great community.”
Also in attendance at the 78th Precinct event were Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, state Senator Zellnor Myrie, Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest and congressional candidates Jo Anne Simon and Dan Goldman.
Following her speech, Hochul asked the DJ to put on “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang, and she hit the dancefloor with 78th Precinct Police Captain Frantz Souffrant.
“National Night Out is about community, it is about bringing people together, it is about getting to know each other by playing together, talking to each other,” said Simon, who represents part of the precinct’s patrol in the state Assembly. “And when we get to know each other, we have safer communities. And that’s really what this is all about.”
For attendees, it was about visibility for their families.
“We came today because I don’t want my kids to be scared of cops anymore,” said Talia Watson, a 39-year-old mother of two from Prospect Heights. “My children know that being Black, they have to be careful, but losing their fear will help them act smart if they’re ever in a situation where they need to and it will help them live a different life.”
Crown Heights resident Susan Morales agreed.
“We never see police officers and neighbors in conversation here in Crown Heights,” she told Brooklyn Paper, adding that events like National Night Out are “necessary for the neighborhood to have a moment to recognize each other again.”
“We are reminded that many police officers are not in the job to shoot people, but to help a community,” added Richard Santos, 32, also of Crown Heights. “At times, that is hard to believe, but it is true and it is the only way we can keep on.”
“We are doing the work”
Not too far away in East New York’s 75th Precinct, Mayor Eric Adams drove home a similar point.
“People want to infuse this false narrative that the public and police can’t get along,” Hizzoner said at Robert E. Venable Park. “We are here to change that perception. We are doing the work.”
An East New York parent in attendance agreed.
“We must surround the kids with love, support and greatness,” they told Brooklyn Paper. “That starts with great policing.”
On Brooklyn’s southern end, people were happy to get back out there after a particularly draining two years stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
“During lockdowns, everyone’s been so isolated that events like this solidify the community. It’s nice to be out and feel united,” said Riva Kessin, who attended the 63rd Precinct’s National Night Out event at Marine Park.
The Marine Park showing had everything from bouncy castles and game trucks to ice cream trucks and raffles for those who were feeling lucky.
“This event is for families to have fun while addressing crime, which is psychologically more effective when they’re in a family friendly atmosphere,” said councilmember Mercedes Narcisse. “My role is ensuring the parks are kept clean, beautiful, and crime-free. I’m particularly interested in parks because that’s where the community convenes. When they’re clean and pretty, there’s less crime.”
63rd Precinct officers also weighed in on the importance of the annual event.
“This event brings the community and the police together,” said Officer Thomas Podd. “It shows them police are people too that just want to keep everyone safe.”
In Coney Island’s 60th Precinct, there was live entertainment from local sideshow performers, and a family-friendly atmosphere reminiscent of what the People’s Playground prides itself on: fun.
Deputy Inspector James King, commanding officer of the 60th Precinct, presented the local YMCA’s executive director, Sam Moore, with a citation on behalf of the precinct. King said that Moore — who runs the neighborhood’s “Friday Night Lights” program aimed at bringing cops and community members together beyond the annual Night Out showings — is “someone that’s important both to the community and to this department.”
“Thank you for all that you do, you mean so much to us,” King said.
In the nearby 62nd Precinct, which encompasses the southwestern neighborhoods of Bensonhurst, Mapleton, and Bath Beach, local organizations were just as excited to get out there and mingle.
“Every year we’re invited and it’s a pleasure to come out,” said Tambe-Tysha John of the New Utrecht Library.
The 62nd Precinct always celebrates National Night Out outside of its Bath Avenue station house. And this year’s festivities, John said, were “bigger than ever.”
“We love it,” he told Brooklyn Paper.
Snacks, dancing, and community relations at National Night Out
The 68th Precinct took over Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge, doling out watermelon, 6-foot-long sandwiches, and water to beat the evening’s heat. Cops and community partners handed out crime prevention information and bags of goodies all night long.
Officers and local politicians including Councilmember Justin Brannan and U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis were joined by Col. Brian A. Jacobs and Command Sgt. Maj. Eva M. Commons of the Fort Hamilton Army Base.
At the northern end of the borough, the 84th Precinct, who oversee Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill, and Dumbo, gathered at Brooklyn Bridge Park with plenty of food, treats, and live entertainment from the Brooklyn Diamonds Cheer Team and the Gowanus Wildcats.
As the Wildcats, a step team, performed, their director Renee “Juice” Flowers spoke about the importance of supporting local youth and making sure they have safe, engaging community spaces.
Dancers Leona York, Maylani Diggs, Kaylah Hamilton, Amaya Diggs, all longtime team members who live in the Wyckoff Gardens and Gowanus Houses public housing complexes, said their bond is strong because of all the time they spend together on the team.
“There needs to be stuff in our community centers for us to do after school,” Amaya said. “In our community center where we live, we have tutors, we can get free snacks, we can just chill there. It can be a place for us to hang out without being in the streets, hanging out and getting into trouble.”
York said they enjoy performing in the community and meeting the local elected officials and police officers who attend each National Night Out, where they perform every year.
Jeffrey Smith, a longtime member of the precinct’s community council, said he joined the council 25 years ago amid an upswing in crime in Brooklyn Heights. Relations between the community and the cops were strained at the time, he recalled, and each council meeting was contentious.
But now, “even though there’s a little tension, there’s a mutual respect, which was not there in the old days,” Smith said.
Crime in New York City
Despite that, he and some of his neighbors are nervous about crime levels in their neighborhood and in the city. Smith feels the safety net is “stretched too damn thin,” and that there are not enough cops, firefighters, and emergency responders to keep up with the large population in Brooklyn Heights and citywide.
Across New York City, nearly all crimes are up from the same time last year — though murders and shooting incidents have declined, according to NYPD data.
The same is true in the Brooklyn North patrol, which encompasses 10 precincts and neighborhoods from Greenpoint to Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York. There, the most significant increase has been in transit crimes, which police report are up 60 percent compared to the same time last year, with 214 such incidents so far.
That’s not the case in the Brooklyn South patrol, which stretches from the southernmost shoreline to Prospect Heights, where there have been 35 murders this year, according to NYPD data, compared to 29 at the same time last year. Robbery, rape, felony assault and larceny are also up in the area, though shooting incidents are down.
Additional reporting by Lloyd Mitchell and Arthur de Gaeta