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Building a Safe Community: One Night Out at a Time

Crime levels are lowest in neighborhoods in which there is a sense of community or mutual trust among neighbors, combined with a willingness to get involved in achieving a common good.

South Brunswick is a relatively safe place to live, but it is not crime-free. 

In the past month, this newspaper has reported two different shootings (one with a regular gun, and the other with a pellet gun), two attempted home break-ins (by the same person), theft of checks from a family, and a robbery at a local 7-Eleven. In addition, two arrests were made with regard to a string of car burglaries that took place in the township during April and May

Our police force is excellent, but their numbers are limited. Partnership with the community is essential in maintaining community security. 

Studies have shown that crime levels are lowest in neighborhoods in which there is a sense of community or mutual trust among neighbors, combined with a willingness to get involved in achieving a common good.

When I moved into South Brunswick 36 years ago, I could tell you the names, life history, and values of every family on my block. We made time to interact, compare notes, and share lawn maintenance and snow removal equipment. Our kids played together and everyone kept an eye out for their safety. When families went on vacation, we took in their mail and watched for any intruders.  

Sadly, the times have changed.

Modern technology coupled with a harsh economic environment has stifled these valuable neighbor-to-neighbor communications. The integration of the computer and other smart technology into our daily lives has created isolation. The necessity to work long hours or two jobs limits free time and just "hanging out" with neighbors.

Community-wide celebrations are one powerful antidote for the effects of this interpersonal separation. One such event – National Night Out – is coming up in less than two weeks. Its focus is on building police and community partnerships in order to prevent crime.

Make plans to attend. Get to know the faces of South Brunswick. Make new friends and remind yourself why you chose this township to live in and raise your kids. Meet some of the police, fire fighters, and first-aid members before you need their services.  

National Night Out: What Is It?

On Tuesday, August 2, the 28th Annual National Night Out will be celebrated in more than 15,000 communities in the U.S. and in Canada, with over 37 million people anticipated to attend. 

According to the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), the sponsor of this event, the evening is designed to:

  • Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness
  • Generate support for and participation in local anticrime programs
  • Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police/community partnerships
  • Send a message to criminals, letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back*

NATW describes itself as a "non-profit organization dedicated to the development and promotion of organized, law enforcement-affiliated crime and drug prevention programs."

South Brunswick National Night Out

In South Brunswick, this free event will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. at Rowland Park, located near Rowland Road. Organized by our police department, it is indeed a gala, with games, free hot dogs and other food, prizes, and many giveaways.

Most important, you will get a chance to make new friends and interact with other members of our community.

Last year's National Night Out was very successful, with nearly 3,000 residents attending. NATW awarded the South Brunswick police department top honors in New Jersey and ranked it fifth in the nation within our size category (15,000–49,999).

The criteria for judgment for NATW included the strength of overall campaign, neighborhood participation, law enforcement involvement, media and promotional campaign, and special events.

Hopefully, the spark of community generated at this event will encourage neighbors to interact and generate activities such as block parties and/or the creation of some form of a neighborhood watch.  

How to Strengthen Community Every Day

One community (Caspar, California) made a list of year-round behavior we can adopt that will build community after events such as National Night Out are over.** Sample suggestions include: 

  • Turn off your TV (or computer, iPad, or smartphone)
  • Open your shades
  • Know your neighbors
  • Look up when you are walking
  • Greet people
  • Use the library
  • Buy from local merchants
  • Take your children to a local park
  • Support neighborhood schools
  • Talk to the mail carrier
  • Hire young people for odd jobs
  • Share your skills (volunteer) 

Great ideas! What are yours?

http://www.nationaltownwatch.org/nno/about.html

**  http://casparcommons/org/Library/HowToBuild.htm

Jim Brittain July 20, 2011 at 01:50 PM
While the "National Night Out" is a good start, it is not enough. It's important to develop relationships with neighbors, so that they know what is expected for our comings and goings, and can (and are willing to) investigate when there are irregularities. Ideally, we should also be willing to talk to parents in the neighborhood if we notice problems with their children. Our wired, connected lifestyles allow us to develop relationships with people who are miles away, whom we may never see, but they can interfere with these local relationships which are also important to our daily lives. I am no Luddite, and I believe that online and long-distance relationships can be real and deep. But they do not replace knowing our neighbors. We need relationships with local people, for the reasons of safety and local community, and for other reasons, was well.
Judy Shepps Battle July 20, 2011 at 01:56 PM
Jim, thank you for stating so beautifully the need for simply talking to people face-to-face that are on your block, in your neighborhood, and in your community. The illusion of connection with strangers (technologically) indeed edges out true connection for many people. The technology makes interaction quick and simple and erases the need to share emotions eyeball-to-eyeball with the use of emoticons and abbreviations. Maybe we should schedule periodic energy blackouts where the only form of connection is face-to-face? It would be a step to save both the planet and our own interpersonal humanity.
Elaine July 20, 2011 at 02:06 PM
I agree, the community can work as an extended family, especially at a time when actual famlies are living spread apart. I love my neighbors and they know it! They are like family to me. We tend to each other's home, keep an eye on one another's children, celebrate happy event and help help one another during the bad times, beside do planned things together. We can say it how it is and we have each other's back. We are like family. I love you guys!
Judy Shepps Battle July 20, 2011 at 02:14 PM
Elaine, your energy and description of the vibrant neighborhood community is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing it and thank you for living it!!
Steve in Kingston July 20, 2011 at 03:06 PM
National Night originally was designed to get neighbors out of their homes and onto the streets and sidewalks of their neighborhoods to meet each other and be connected in an effort to reduce crime, etc. While the current National Night Out does promote a community message it seems to have been distorted into a "carnival" where political and special interest groups come together to promote their agenda. I doesn't make sense...I have to drive 5 miles to a park to meet my neighbors? Don't they live on my street? Can’t we get just get back to basics and end the “feel good” hype?
Judy Shepps Battle July 20, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Steve, I totally agree with you that building neighborhood community is best done in the neighborhood. National Night Out is a way of communicating the importance of taling to neighbors and having block-specific activities to people who will hopefully return home after the "carnival" and be inspired to begin the local process. National Night Out is a vehicle for jump-starting this process when it doesn't exist and strengthening it when it does. You certainly don't have to drive five miles to meet your neighbors if you know them already but you can go to the event and meet the police, firefighters, and first-aid people that help keep this community safe. It is a great place to have a good time on a hot August night. See you there!
Elaine July 20, 2011 at 04:28 PM
National Night Out also provides information regarding community and county sponsored programs that people may not be aware of.
Judy Shepps Battle July 20, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Thanks for this information, Elaine. I know there will be a lot of good information for those who attend (as well as a good time)!
Steve in Kingston July 20, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Like I reported...the program has been diminished by the special interest, political and other groups that have NOTHING to do with "connecting neighbors" in an effort to reduce crime!
Judy Shepps Battle July 20, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Steve, could you clarify what special interest, political and/or other groups you are referring to? Perhaps you might also like to go to the National Night Out website and see that the organizers welcome and support the activities South Brunswick is having August 2 and, indeed, awarded our police department first place in NJ for last year's Night Out.
Elaine July 20, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Well Steve, I do believe connecting with neighbors is what you will need to do, let it be in your own neighborhood or attending a community event. I think when you feel a part of something, whether it is a government sponsored event with hidden agendas or what not, it is your opportunity to make it more for yourself. Sure, National Night may have started with a goal of bringing community together to reduce crime. It may have transformed into something else in time, but it still open to YOU and the community to make it more. I think when a community feels some sort of bond to their neighborhood, it has a direct affect on crime rate. The township is putting a serving of food on your plate, now is the time for you to pick up the fork.
Judy Shepps Battle July 20, 2011 at 07:22 PM
Might I just add, that in some communities in other parts of the country and in Canada that are celebrating National Night Out, all they are able to do is encourage folks to turn on the porch light for that evening. We are really fortunate in South Brunswick to have a police force that is taking the time to organize the community celebration of NNO. It has been a while since we had Community Unity Day and I believe South Brunswick needs celebrations like this.
raymond Weis July 20, 2011 at 08:40 PM
As you know doing what I do I am out at all kinds of odd hours day and night. I try and make it a practice to be on the look out for anything suspicious. You never know what might be happening. If somebody is having trouble getting in to a car or house I don't assume they just mislayed their keys and I will contact the police. I don't advocate trying to stop anyone unless somebody's life is in imminent danger and even then think twice before you put your life in danger.
Judy Shepps Battle July 20, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Very good advice, Ray. More good can be safely done by just calling 911 on your cell phone!

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