Communities across Chicago enjoyed family-centered picnic-style events on Aug. 2, hosted by the Chicago Police Department.
The city joined thousands of other communities as a part of National Night Out — a U.S. and Canadian-wide initiative that promotes police-community partnerships. The event happens the first Tuesday of August annually and includes games, food, giveaways, and performances.
“Events like this are important because they bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement,” 6th District commander Rodney Blissett said. “We’re creating a partnership together.”
That type of partnership is needed, according to both police and community members. National Night Out occurred in the middle of increased summer violence throughout the city. 2016 has been more deadly than last year, according to police statistics. There were 381 homicides by July 31, up 44 percent from last year. Similarly, overall shootings are up 53 percent from last year.
Trust is also an issue that local police aim to address. In a report from the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago, only 44 percent of Black millennials between 18 and 29 say they trust the police compared to 72 percent of Whites within that age range. Police say events like National Night Out are a step toward both encouraging police-community partnerships and rebuilding trust to attack violence collectively.
“Every time we can work with the community, it’s essential,” said Eric Washington, deputy chief of community policing. “With what’s occurring here in Chicago and across the country, community and police have to work together. We are a limited resource. You have more community members who want to see things change and working with them is going to be key to making sure we solve it.”
Many of the activities at National Night Out are specifically geared toward the youth, who may not have positive interactions with police.
“If you don’t expose them to [police], they’re going to build that mistrust and the idea is to have that exposure,” Washington said. “When I grew up, my parents said that if I had any problems to go to the police. And we want to make sure that idea is still there.”
Events like these, police say, are a necessary component of rebuilding that kind of community trust.
“We want you to work with us and trust us,” Washington said. “If you have a problem, find someone in a uniform and they’re going to make sure you’re safe.”
Studies show that creating positive interactions with police do, in fact, impact relationships. A study by the National Institute of Justice shows that people’s personal interactions have the greatest effect on how they view police. Even when communicating with police for an offense such as receiving a speeding ticket, they have a positive impression of that interaction when the officer treats them fairly and with respect.
“Call a friend, call a cop,” said Darren Doss, commander of the 3rd District. “That’s the commercial I grew up with and that’s what we’re here for. Friendship, community, relationship — that’s what we’re all about.”
Community members at the events — both young and adult — agree that it’s time for a change in regards to police and community relationship and engagement.
James Poole of Chicago Against Violence, a community activism group that brings neighbors together, brought his family to the 3rd District Night Out event at Meyering Park. He said that many of the shootings within the area could have been avoided or would have had fewer casualties if community members were not afraid to get involved and join forces with the police.
“We need to unite as one,” he said. “That’s the only way it’s going to work.”
15-year-old Jamise Poole says that she sees the violence going on in her community, especially with those her age.
“It’s important so we can come together and stop the violence,” she said. “A lot of youth are getting killed and it needs to stop.”
To many of the young residents like 12-year-old Jaylah Poole, the event was a success.
“Everything has been flowing with no violence,” she said. “Everyone is enjoying themselves.”
Collaborative events like National Night Out, police say, send an important message to those who are a part of the violent and dangerous activity affecting the city.
“They let the gangbangers know we are one and we can corroborate,” 6th District officer Nicosia Mathews said at her district’s event at Foster Park. “We can come together and say no to drugs, say no to violence, and say no to guns, because people think that we can’t. This shows that we can.”