CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) - Many people are wondering why no one was suspicious of the man who allegedly killed nearly 60 people and injured more than 500 others in Las Vegas on Sunday. Police officers in central Arkansas and around the country spent Tuesday evening building the kind of bonds that will help people see when something is wrong, and then tell the authorities.
Officers joined millions of people at block parties nationwide as part of National Night Out, an annual event to encourage friendly relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
“It’s a big night,” said LaTresha Woodruff, a spokeswoman for the Conway Police Department, “because if we reach a handful of people that never had an encounter—a positive encounter—with the police department, then it’s well worth it.”
A steady rain forced the party inside CPD’s substation on Davis Street, instead of on the nearby playground as officers had planned, but that did not dull the spirits of the people who showed up. Volunteers from Target and CenterPoint Energy joined the officers to cook hotdogs and hamburgers and play games, and Elsa, from the Disney movie “Frozen,” chatted with young children and made them smile.
“And, really,” Woodruff stated, “that’s what it’s all about; getting to know people in the neighborhood, letting them meet our officers and become comfortable with them, so that they know that, whenever they have an emergency situation, or they just have a question, that they can feel comfortable calling the Conway Police Department because they remember they met us, and we’re real people.”
Conway officers have hosted block parties for National Night Out for several years. They decided to move it this year to the substation, which is not far from UCA, so that more people could have a chance to spend time with the officers. “You know, maybe next year we’ll move it somewhere else,” Woodruff mentioned. “We just want to be able to reach as many people as possible in our community.”
Woodruff said this kind of community engagement is a high priority for the department. It recently started a unit that patrols neighborhoods and paths on bicycles, which is designed to make its officers more approachable. Hopefully that will lead to an increase in tips that solve crimes.
“And now people are getting comfortable with them,” Woodruff added. “They’re knowing that they may be coming around on bikes, or just hanging out in the neighborhood.”
National Night Out is also a chance for neighbors to get to know each other so they can better protect each other. And as Elsa explained to the children, you do not need magic powers to be a hero.
“Positive interaction’s always good,” Elsa said. “We don’t necessarily have too many police officers in Arendelle, but I think it’s wonderful that you have them here, because they’re fantastic and upstanding people.”
According to the National Association of Town Watch, which first organized National Night Out, 38,000,000 people take part each year in 16,000 communities. Most states celebrate it on the first Tuesday in August, though some southern states move it to October because of the heat.
Some, including the Sherwood Police Department, will have their National Night Out events next week.