Stow joined communities across the region, state and nation on the first Tuesday in August and observed National Night Out: America's Night Out Against Crime (NNO) as part of the National Association of Town Watch (NATW).
The fun, family festivities included: an inflatable bounce house; huge inflatable slide; bean bag toss; face-painting; door-prize drawings; a hook and ladder truck spraying a cooling mist for the children to run under; and free hotdogs and other refreshments. Also on display were several police, fire and military vehicles.
Stow Police Chief Louis A. Dirker Jr., was there and said, "It's a national event, just reminding people to be safe and careful out there. It's about crime prevention; we have a lot of displays on that. Target is one of our big sponsors, they help out each year. Applebee's donated the food; we have free hotdogs and refreshments. We have an armored vehicle on display. We're part of Metro SWAT. The National Guard brought some of their vehicles up here. We have the K-9, the D.A.R.E. car, our prisoner transport vehicle. It's to let the community see what's going on."
Stow Mayor Sara Drew was on hand to greet the members of the community and told the Akronist, "Every year we always get a really good turnout, and I'm happy to see that the weather is so nice today because that helps bring people out. I know people come from all over the city, from lots of different neighborhoods and we have a really great selection of things for kids to do. The kids learn a lot, but they want to come because they have a lot of fun. We participated in this for many years, in Stow, and I think it's a really successful program. So we will certainly continue it in the future."
The chief's executive assistant, Deb Berkey, while serving hotdogs to the guests, said this was Stow's sixth Night Out event. "Every year it keeps getting bigger and bigger. It's always fun," she said. Dirker added, "We do have (approximately) 300 people here, maybe more. It's a pretty big event. It keeps getting bigger, too, which is great."
Officer Steve Miller has been with the K-9 unit since 2000. His current partner, Colt, is 3 years old now. When asked if Colt could differentiate between work situations and public events like this, Miller said, "Oh, yeah. Part of our community outreach is to read to the kids [in school]. Last year we went to about 30 classes. He just sits there, and lays there, and chews on his bone. Then the kids get to ask questions and tell us about their own dogs."
Asked if, when working, he could toggle Colt in and out in working mode and down mode, Miller said, "He knows. You're pushin' the pedal, you're picking up the mic, you're turning the lights on, they understand all that. When we get off the highway, to come in here, just to come in to work, he starts whining as soon as we turn off of Graham Road. He knows. They learn quick, that's for sure." Content with his chew toy, Colt had a , "no comment."
Miller went on to explain, "It's just a chance for the people to see everything and meet the officer and the dog, stuff like that. It's a good community thing where people actually get to communicate rather than just see you on the other side."
Dirker commented, "Over the years, we've had a couple of 'Dog-n-Suds' fund raisers and we raised quite a bit of money. Now that our other K-9 is getting older, we're going to have to look for a replacement for him. And, I'd like to get a third dog; I'd like to have one on each shift."
A SWAT team member [who requested his name not be used] said the SWAT team comprises 16 to 18 departments. "It's most of Summit County and most of Portage County. Some departments in each of those counties have their own SWAT teams. The ones that don't have their own get in on this multi-jurisdictional. We train two days every month, and in October we train a whole week.
"We respond to high-risk warrant services, hostage rescue, barricaded subjects where maybe the person is suicidal and they have a gun. What's the point of forcing your way in, as a police officer, when we can come out here with all of our electronics? We have 'eyeball' systems, and pole-cam systems. We have negotiators. We're one of the bigger teams in the state of Ohio. Everybody shows up, with tactical, medics and negotiators. We don't have any robots yet, but we do have eye-balls that you throw in and it rights itself and we have a camera system that can be turned to see things," he added.
Officer Barry Smith, Neighborhood Watch coordinator, said the groups meet on the third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the community room of the Stow safety building (September through May). "Subs and pizza are donated, and we talk about relevant trends, what's going on in the community, the trends of crime. There are guest speakers," Smith said.
The Stow Police Reserve Unit is a volunteer division within the Stow Police Department. Reserve officers are non-sworn personnel who aid and assist the regular officers in their duties (including directing traffic at crash scenes and assisting stranded motorists). Member "Alisha" explained, "We do 'lock-outs' for people who lock their keys in the car. Our main thing is vacation watches, if people are out of town, we keep an eye on their houses for them to make sure that nothing got broken or no doors are open," she said.
Emerging from national roots
The National Association of Town Watch (NATW) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development and promotion of organized, law enforcement-affiliated crime and drug prevention programs. Members include: Neighborhood, Crime, Community, Town and Block Watch Groups; law enforcement agencies; state and regional crime prevention associations; and a variety of businesses, civic groups and concerned individuals working to make their communities safer places in which to live and work.
Since 1981, NATW's network of information, assistance and affiliation has served hundreds of member groups from throughout North America. As a national group member of the Crime Prevention Coalition, NATW supports the "McGruff – Take a Bite Out of Crime" campaign. NATW's center of information, programs and technical assistance works with law enforcement and civilian leaders to keep volunteers interested, involved and motivated.
National Night Out, "America's Night Out Against Crime," was introduced by the Association in 1984. The program was the brainchild of Matt A. Peskin. The NATW executive director and national project coordinator spoke to the Akronist in a telephone interview after the event. Asked where the inspiration came from to start the program, Peskin said, "The National Association of Town Watch was founded in 1981, and it's an association of crime watch groups and police departments from across the country. After having the Association in existence for a few years, it became apparent to me, that crime watch...crime prevention, kind of needed an event of their own that would promote crime watch on a large scale.
"At that time it was kind of like a background activity. Like a real prevention, quiet kind of thing, with signs and city recognition of it, but not really out in front of the public. And to add to that, there were, maybe, only three to five percent of the people in a given community participating in the programs, which is kind of crazy, because 95 percent of the people are not participating. So I figured that if you had a large scale event that everybody could participate in to promote this, it would help the cause.
"In 1984, when this came out, the idea was relatively simple. It was [turn on your] front porch lights and sit on your front porch for an hour, or so, and that was kind of 'National Night Out.' But the funny part about it was that people liked it. They liked the concept of 'the good-guys are out there,' because 99 percent of us are law-abiding. They liked the feeling that other people were out, and when you're out, you're not going to have criminals on the street, because they don't want to be seen. So the concept was there. Then, after a couple of years, we introduced the block parties, and cook-outs and parades, and all of that stuff that went along, so the event would be...they kind of got bored with the front porch thing, [chuckles] the porch light symbol kind of remained, but they got bored just sitting there."
Peskin said, "It's a wonderful opportunity for communities nationwide to promote police-community partnerships, crime prevention and neighborhood camaraderie. While the one night is certainly not an answer to crime, drugs and violence, National Night Out does represent the kind of spirit, energy and determination that is helping to make many neighborhoods safer places throughout the year. It [NNO] is a night to celebrate safety and crime prevention successes – and to expand and strengthen programs for the next 364 days."
According to the organization's press release: "National Night Out, a year-long community building campaign, is designed to: (1) Heighten crime prevention awareness; (2) Generate support for, and participation in, local anticrime programs; (3) Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and (4) Send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
"Along with the traditional outside lights and front porch vigils, most cities and towns celebrate National Night Out with a variety of special citywide and neighborhood events such as block parties, cookouts, parades, festivals, visits from local officials and law enforcement, safety fairs and youth events. It's also the perfect opportunity to get to know your neighbors even better."
For information, visit www.nationalnightout.org.