GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Communities across West Michigan gathered on Tuesday with local law enforcement for National Night Out.
Started in 1984, National Night Out aims to promote police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie in an effort to make areas a safe, more caring place to live.
In Grand Rapids, Roosevelt Park neighbors met not only with one another and first responders but local organizations, like Habitat for Humanity.
Ocean Blackwell, who moved to the area one month ago with her three children stumbled upon the event. She says it helped a family member find housing and her son find a potential career.
“They had good tables that were resourceful for families and stuff like that,” said Blackwell. “It’s had a good impact. My son’s already talked about how he wants to be a police officer.”
Mauricio Vasquez, a Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association member, says stories like Blackwell’s are the reasons for the event.
“It’s just bringing the families out so they can be together, know each other, know that there’s help for them if they ever need help in the community,” said Vasquez.
It was a similar scene in Walker on the corner of Alpine and Hillside Drive.
“It’s nice to bring the kids out and as a community gather,” said Alesha Rinzema, who attended with her children and their friends. “They get to interact with the fire department and the police and have good interactions with them. It just lowers barriers.”
In 2020, the nationwide event was canceled due to COVID-19.
During that year off, George Floyd’s death sparked protests and discussions that called for police reform. Adding to the tension, violent crime in many communities, including Grand Rapids, rose to unprecedented levels.
Police departments in West Michigan stressed this year’s event was needed to address those issues.
“We’re trying to get officers from the neighborhoods that they patrol to stop in as long as they can and again just interact with the residents and the community,” said Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne.
“I think once you get to know your police department, you realize that we’re human beings,” said Walker Police Chief Keith Mankel. “Also, we are here to help. Making that connection and knowing who we are is huge. We all want to work together; we want to listen to people; we can solve a lot of things doing it together.”