Nice night for a ‘Night Out’
West Memphis brings community together for block party get-together
The West Memphis Police Department delivered the crowning jewel for its growing its efforts in community outreach with a National Night Out celebration at the Eugene Woods Civic Center on Tuesday night. The Community policing thrust begun under former Police Chief Donald Oakes continued to blossom under Chief Eddie West in a police sponsored event that was every bit the caliber of the city’s annual Freedom Fest minus the fireworks.
Police and fire department vehicles escorted Rusty the crime dog mascot into the parking lot festival at the Eugene Woods Center. Businesses lined a mid-way with free food.
Pizza, hot dogs and cold drinks were offered by event sponsors. The police Department served up snow cones. A band offered Blues and Funk to set the tone.
The police department had suspended the annual night out a few years back.
Mayor Marco McClendon said the renewal of night out would again become an annual event. He opened the community out reach event with his trademark enthusiasm, optimism, and big smile.
“This is something we will continue doing,” said McClendon. “This event is important to us because to have a rollback in crime in our city we must have a positive relationship between the police and the community. We want to continue to work together to make West Memphis a safe place.”
The mayor asked for applauds and prayers for the police department.
Assistant Chief Robert Langston said the night out celebration served as a cap for the wide array of community oriented police efforts undertaken in the last few years.
The first step required community contact from its patrolmen under the DETER program. Police have been required to get out of the vehicle and make personal contacts in crime hot spots.
“It’s called park and walk,” said Langston. “Our crime analysts determine hot spots in the city. If we have violent crime we focus our officers in that area for up to ten days until it calms down. Our patrol officers make contacts in stores and parks or even greeting folks at the door in churches. Last month we
undertaken a monthly park and walk program knocking on doors in different neighborhoods one night a month. The police do what they did at the night out celebration handing out information on the “9 o’clock routine,” asking citizens to lock up vehicles and the house, and turn on the porch lights.
Policing has become more visible in the West Memphis School District too.
An officer is on duty in every school, everyday.
“We started with school resource officers in April,” sad Langston. “They got more SRO training over the summer. They are key in putting a face on the department with school aged children. We are fortunate to have a very solid group of ten officers representing us in the schools.”
The latest tool in community relations for the WMPD has been the neighbors app. Citizens can upload home and business surveillance video of suspicious activity. Its an electronic neighborhood watch and helps police zero in on potential crime spots.
The community oriented efforts took root when Community Outreach Coordinator Tawana Butler came on board according to Langston. Butler took over the citizens academy and produces community events for the police department in conjunction with city youth clubs, civc organizations and churches. “Tawana has done a great job,” said Langston. “She will do another citizens academy in the spring.
Tawana’s position is so important to the police department and the city.
Her role including trust and delivering transparency is invaluable to us, She’s fit in and runs with it. Whatever we do, she makes it ten times better than we’d hoped for.”
City residents may apply with the police department for the next citizens academy. The weekly sessions offer and inside look at the operations of each police division in the hopes of enhancing community relations with citizens informed in police procedures.