The National Night Out Against Crime, an initiative sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), is intended to raise awareness of crime/drug prevention. According to the NATW's web site (www.natw.org), the event is also designed to generate support for local anti-crime programs, to strengthen neighborhood spirit and community-police relations, and most importantly to send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized.
Cities, towns and neighborhoods are encouraged to leave their porch lights on and to have organized events with the ultimate goal being a raised awareness of crime and drug prevention and a feeling of community cohesiveness.
West New York
West New York opted to have, for the second year in a row, a National Night Out that focused on the senior citizen community in town. An event was held indoors at the Casa Manito Medical Day Care Center on 55th Street.
Approximately 300 residents of all ages turned out to eat, dance and simply commiserate.
According to event coordinator West New York Police Captain Mike Caliguiro, "It's a night out against crime even though West New York has experienced a great decline in crime over the past few years. At 7 p.m. all municipal sirens go off nationwide as a way to show that we are all united in the fight against crime."
Caligurio chalks up West New York's reduction in crime to a few different factors. Said Caliguiro, "It's all about the town fathers providing the equipment and manpower to help the police department. From the top echelon down to the guys coming out of the Passaic Police Academy, they know they have the full support of the mayor and the commissioners. It really means a lot to the guys and it keeps morale high."
The West New York Police Department was shaken to its core in 1999 when widespread corruption was uncovered resulting in the firings of many officers. Since then, the department has been a model of efficiency under the leadership of Police Commissioner Joseph Pelliccio. According to police sources, Pelliccio runs a very tight ship.
The decision to focus on seniors was easy, according to Capt. Caliguiro. "Seniors can be victims of scams and cons so what we do is go to the different residences and talk to them about preventing crimes of deception; for instance, to not give out their Social Security numbers and to be careful when they go to the bank."
Last week's celebration was punctuated by music, dancing, food and good conversation, basically getting people out of their residences and into the neighborhood. Smiles were in abundance as people chatted and socialized.
Said Casa Manito co-owner Rick Perez, "This night means a lot to the seniors and everyone. It gives them an extra life. They function a lot better when they socialize. They can be with people their own age. We give them exercise, both physically and mentally."
If West New York's National Night Out was a somewhat sedate affair, Union City's by comparison, was positively massive.
Thousands turned out for what, in effect, was a giant block party that spanned a six-block stretch on New York Avenue. The event featured live and DJ music, food, refreshments, sand art, carnival attractions and games of all sorts.
The Union City Police Department and Public Safety Director and Union City Mayor Brian Stack were out in force, as was the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Department. The latter was on hand to demonstrate vehicle extrication (they took a car apart with the Jaws of Life).
The Union City Police Department's new Emergency Services Unit made its debut. This vehicle, which was profiled in an April 27, 2003 Reporter article, will carry a vast array of life-saving equipment and will be used to augment the NHRFR's rescue unit.
According to Union City spokesperson Gayle Kaufman, the foul weather actually kept the number of revelers down, but the turnout was still healthy.
"You should have seen it in years past," said Kaufman.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack said of the night, "This is about having a close relationship with the police department and also for people to meet their neighbors. It shows people that they have to look out for each other."