|By Michelle Kealey|
WESTFIELD If members of the community ever wanted to meet police officers, check out police motorcycles, ATVs and other equipment or see how firefighters use the jaws of life to save a person from a car, Aug. 2 will be their chance.
The city will host its annual Westfield Night Out Against Crime from 5 - 8 p.m. that evening, which coincides with the National Association of Town Watch's 22nd Annual Night Out Against Crime.
According to the organization's website (www.nationaltownwatch.org), the National Night Out is designed to strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships, heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for and participation in local anti-crime programs and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
Each city that participates in the National Night Out hosts its own series of events and registers with the National Association of Town Watch.
Mayor Richard Sullivan said that Westfield has been participating in the National Night Out for eight years.
"It focuses on things that individual people, families and neighborhoods can do to make themselves and their neighborhoods safer," he said.
According to Sgt. Stephan Dickinson, supervisor of the Community Policing Unit in Westfield, the event has been combined with the annual Fall Festival for the past few years.
He added that this year, he and the other organizers are segregating the event once again to bring it out with the National Night Out.
Dickinson explained that the event is important because "we want to educate the community first of all in crime prevention and second, we want them to be introduced with the community police unit and the officers in charge of the unit."
He said that including himself, there are six officers in the Community Police Unit who work separate beats.
He added that the event allows the Police Department to show the community crime prevention tips and information as well as to educate residents.
"It also gets neighbors together to work together in getting rid of drugs and crime," he said.
Sullivan also said that there is a very close connection between the Night Out and local police department.
He added that community policing is very active in the city, especially in the more densely populated area, and the police chief has plans to expand the program to more neighborhoods.
Sullivan said that the department has brought in four new officers who will be going through the academy this year.
"One of the benefits of community policing is that it brings the same officer down the street on a regular basis," he said. "[Residents] get to know them as a regular person, not just a law enforcement officer. They know if they need help, they can approach [the officer]."
Sullivan explained that the Night Out is another opportunity for residents to meet local law enforcement officials.
"It is an attraction for kids and a great opportunity for law enforcement officers to interact with the kids and families," he said.
One way Sullivan is trying to encourage participation in the Night Out from children is a poster contest.
He said that the city has hosted poster contests in the past.
"It is an opportunity for kids to get involved in something fun and to showcase the talent they may have artistically and creatively," he said.
The contest is open to children in the following categories: ages five to six; ages seven to eight; ages nine to 10; and ages 11 to 12.
A prize will be awarded to one winner in each category and the winning posters will be on display in the police booth on Aug. 2.
Posters can be any size, but cannot be smaller than an 8 by 10 inch poster.
In order to submit an entry, children must choose a theme which include "How I can make my neighborhood safe, "Things kids can do to stay safe," and "Put neighborhood safety first."
The poster must include the name of the chosen theme on the front of the poster and must include their name, address, phone number and age on the back.
Entries can be dropped off at the mayor's office in City Hall until July 27.
Police Commissioner Patti Andras said that there are many activities planned for the Night Out.
She said that the Police Department will have a dog officer with his dog there doing demonstrations, the fire department will do a jaws of life demonstration, police motorcycles, ATVs, and police cars will be on display and the Air National Guard and Army National Guard will be there with some vehicles, some of which children can climb into.
Andras explained that other organizations, such as Noble Hospital and the YMCA become involved with the event as well.
She added that at the end of the night, participants march through the city, which she said is a "symbolic taking back the streets from criminals."
"The goal is taking back our community and to tell criminals they are not welcome," she said.
She added that Omniglow of West Springfield donated glow sticks for the march.
She added that the Night Out also shows children that there are other things they can be involved in as well as future career paths.
Andras said that there will also be events about elderly safety this year.
She added that hot dogs and popcorn will be free and there will be other food for participants to purchase.
Andras said that about 300 people attend the event each year and it takes place from 5 - 8 p.m., which take place on the Green..
She said that many people are just getting out of work at that time and the organizers want the march to begin just as it begins to get dark.
Westfield's Night Out is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch and co-sponsored by the Westfield Police Department, Main Street Stop and Shop and the Tavern Restaurant.