UNION, NJ — At one end of the parking lot, children lined up for the bouncy castle while not far away, people of all ages lined up to sink a cop in the dunk tank. A disc jockey played music for the crowd while Xani the Magic Clown performed tricks, a face painter named Jypsie decorated the faces of youngsters who could sit still long enough and Tyrone from “The Backyardigans” animated TV show made friends with the crowd.
It was National Night Out Against Crime at the Union Police Headquarters, one of countless similar annual events held across the county, state and country on the first Tuesday in August as a way for emergency responders, particularly police, to promote a good relationship with the members of the community.
“We feel that this is one of those events that we want to help strengthen our relationship with the community … We get a lot of donations,” said Union police officer Michael Loguidice, an officer acting as ambassador at the event.
Loguidice described the detailed planning process for the event; it takes about two and a half months to organize and the department spends time and resources personally reaching out to residents and businesses.
“The planning in itself is really time consuming,” he said. “We have to personally go and send letters out because we’re trying to run a community event.”
Union’s NNO included food and entertainment, and the parking was lined with tents from local businesses and organizations, including a local taekwondo school and physical therapy practice. Even the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark had a table with information to educate local citizens on its services.
The Union Fire Department hosted a tent with shiny truck, and the EMT squad displayed a table of information and an ambulance for educational purposes.
The Police Department also showed off its equipment, which this year included its first new surveillance drone. During a demonstration, one officer flew the device over the crowd, drawing a lot of looks skyward to the whirring propeller blades.
The Police Department also conducted tours of its facility, including an introduction to its records system, the dispatcher room and the jail.
Part of the NNO mission is to promote partnerships between police departments and their local communities.
“You see the amount of people that come to this, it makes you feel better about the two and a half months that you put in,” Loguidice said. “We’re building that bond with the people that actually came and show them that, hey, we’re not just trying to be police officers and police the general public.”
National Night Out is a time when residents can become more familiar with one another and families can make new acquaintances with local officials. Area public safety officials educate the public, and business owners have an opportunity to advertise themselves to the community.
“We’re out here trying to associate with you and build that bond with you guys,” Loguidice said. “We get five or six phone calls a day and they want to know, ‘What can we do to help the community?”
Loguidice chuckled and joked about the popularity of a police officer sitting in the dunk tank waiting to be dropped into the water.
“This is the first year that entertainment was invited for this event,” Jypsie, the face painter, said.
“We were contacted by an officer with Union Police Department, he’s a long-standing friend of ours. We also provided them with a mascot character — Tyrone from the backyardigans. We’ve branched out. People with companies and businesses reached out to us.”