BUFFALO, N.Y. — From the Town of Alden to the City of Niagara Falls, communities across Western New York took part in a special evening Tuesday meant to reinforce relationships between neighbors and first responders.
It's called National Night Out.
The annual event, when not interrupted by a pandemic, provides a safe and productive environment for police and fire departments to bond; often with their smallest citizens.
In the Town of Tonawanda, firefighters showed kids how to use a hose to put out a fire and helped them suit up in fire gear. The exercise in exposure is meant to build connections and strengthen crime prevention.
“A lot of time we're being called to situations we're responding so this is a way to meet people, in a proactive way,” said Tonawanda Police Captain Joseph Milosich.
In the City of Buffalo, a dance battle between kids and police helped build a similar kind of bond.
“It's a really good opportunity to come together and feel the love,” said Shaleese Brown.
The night also carried added meaning for those in Kenfield-Langfield and East Buffalo like Pastor Al Wilson, the Director of the Martha Mitchell Community Center. Wilson said after the attack on Jefferson Avenue he saw the coming together of 3,000 people as yet another sign that hatred will not win.
“On a regular basis we have to be out there and be vigilant in this season in our community… and if people are saying we can't do things in an African American community this tells you that they're lying,” Pastor Wilson said.
Niagara Falls Police met plenty of young kids who wanted to explore an armored vehicle and suit up like SWAT. Niagara Falls Police Chief John Faso said simple actions like “being there, being a resource, and just talking,” can often have the largest impact.
“National Night Out is a chance to see us in a different light to see us with our hair down and interacting, that's very important,” Chief Faso said.
Because crime prevention can be intimidating in the moment, Faso added that the goal of his department and really all others that took part in National Night Out is sharpening the best tool that first responders have, connection with their neighbors.
As Buffalo Mayor Brown put it, “we are better together we are safer together, and when community, the police department, the fire department, and the city all come together we make our community stronger."