In the tradition of a down-home family reunion and church tent revival, families, friends, neighbors, community organizations, local merchants, and officers of the 15th Chicago Police District (CPD) gathered in Moore Park, 5055 W. Adams St., on Aug. 6 between 6 and 8 p.m. to celebrate National Night Out.
National Night Out, now in its 30th year, is celebrated across the country. The first Tuesday in August, city and suburban police districts and their communities come together to take back the night from the criminals and take a stand against crime.
Commander Barbara West said National Night Out started as a town watch program. “It was a night where the community would come together and say, instead of the criminals taking the night, we’re going to take the night. So, we call it our national night against crime,” West added.
The event is held each year in a different park within the 15th and other CPD districts. West said Moore Park, located in the center of a residential area, was chosen because it was a park the 15th District felt it needed to do more work in.
Under West’s command, CAPS (Community Alternative Policing Strategy) officers served as the lead organizers. CAPS, implemented in 1993 in five of Chicago’s high-crime districts, is a program that brings police, the community, and other city agencies together to identify crime hot spots and target neighborhood crime problems using strategies and resources to reduce and lessen the impact of neighborhood crime.
“This is an event for the community to get in partnership with the CPD and (engage in) crime awareness,” Officer Collins, a 14-year CAPS veteran and lead organizer said. Stressing it was a hard effort, she added, “We got the word out as best we could. We made fliers, phone calls, and reached out by emails. I’m glad to see the people come out.”
CAPS Officer Townson, another organizer, said, “It’s a group effort. First, we had to pull in all the community residents, churches, clergy, businesses, and block clubs. We got a lot of donations. We got a lot of support for this.”
With many groups contributing something, the intergenerational crowd was truly reflective of the community. The Westside Health Authority helped with the food and water, Cease Fire personnel manned the grill and served up delicious chicken, Harmony Health disseminated health information, and Loretto Hospital provided health screenings.
Throughout the park, young children ran and played while teens and young adults played basketball under the streetlights. Seniors relaxed in portable chairs listening to DJ music as others engaged in conversation with the uniformed officers in attendance. Deborah L. Graham, 29th Ward alderman and Westside NAACP President Karl Brinson were also in attendance.
“This is a way of giving back once a year for what citizens have done for us,” Townson said. “We ask citizens all year to help us with all our problems, with calling the police, holding prayer vigils, smoke-outs, and marching. This is about police serving the community and interacting with them, to let them see that the police department is with them and not against them. We’re a partnership, and we need each other.”
When asked what’s next, Collins replied, “We keep going. We have smoke-outs coming out up later in August. Smoke-outs are events where police get together with certain blocks and we stand on corners and do positive loitering. We fight back by taking back a corner for a certain period of time and we let offenders know, ‘We’re watching you, and we know what you are doing.'”
Attendee Justin Winfrey said it was “absolutely, just spiritually moving to see all of the community out, to see CAPS out, and I know that their righteousness is from the heart, and they care for the people. That’s why the community came out — because you have good people representing the Chicago Police Department.”
Commander West said attendance was up over last year’s event, and she anticipates an even bigger crowd next year.
“This is a great event I think we have pulled off,” West said. “Everybody is represented, from every piece of the community.”