Connecting community and police at Williamsburg's National Night Out

More of a block party than anything, Williamsburg’s National Night Out festivities brought the Greater Williamsburg community and first responders out in droves.

Williamsburg’s fifth annual National Night Out at the Williamsburg Community Building focused on creating links between the community and law enforcement by fostering positive interactions between police and residents.

About 350 people stopped by the Aug. 7 event and grabbed a free hot dog or a selfie with police officers from the Williamsburg Police Department, the Virginia State Police, the Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff’s Office, College of William and Mary Police Department and National Park Service officers.

“I think in Williamsburg we’re fortunate in a lot of ways to have a relatively very safe community, a very good relationship between the citizens and the first responders,” Mayor Paul Freiling said before adding, “but that doesn’t mean we can take that (relationship) for granted.”

The point of having such a show of law enforcement was to give residents the opportunity to interact with every police agency operating in the city, according to event planner and Williamsburg police officer Aundrea Holiday.

For Toano resident Jason Connor, 37, and his two children Ari, 6, and Emerson, 3, the event presents an opportunity for the children to meet law enforcement officers in a positive way, he said.

“That’s a great thing to have, that positive reaction to police rather than that panic,” Connor said.

While there were about 150 fewer attendees in 2018 than 2017, Holiday explained it’s not for a lack of support for the event.

The stifling above-average heat kept people at home, Holiday said. The temperature peaked at about 95 degrees, 5 degrees short of the record, and a slight wind stopped blowing just as the event was getting underway, according to Accuweather forecasts.

Still, at least one resident attended the event for the first time — Patrice Cummings, 18, of Williamsburg, said she came to the event with the hope of growing her sense of belonging with her community and the local police departments.

Cummings had the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of a Williamsburg Police Department SUV, a new experience, she said.

Officers shared intimate moments with residents, laughing and smiling with parents while children clambered into the department’s SUV on display and other children gawked at the police department’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

That’s the reason Brooke Claveloux, 38, of Williamsburg, brought her four children to the event.

“They like seeing the police cars and fire trucks,” Claveloux said while having each of her children get fingerprinted for identification cards.

At one point, City of Williamsburg spokeswoman joked with one parent “that’s the only time you want to see them in a police car.” Williamsburg Police Department Maj. Greg Riley quipped back to the parent “except when they’re the officer behind the wheel.”

While the event focused on police, other agencies set up booths to explain the types of services they provide to residents.

The fire department, the Virginia Attorney General’s office, Riverside Doctors’ Hospital, Safe Kids Williamsburg, BikeWalk Williamsburg, WATA, as well as several businesses including Extraordinary Cupcakes, Chick Fil A, WMBG Radio, ACE hardware, Baskin Robbins, 7-Eleven and Bounce House of Williamsburg all participated in the event, Holiday said.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329 or on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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