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'Bringing the community together': Night Out on Crime expands to seven sites in Columbus

 

Columbus local Delores Cunnie, also known as

Columbus local Delores Cunnie, also known as "DD the Clown", rides up and away with Mike Hanson of Delta Breeze Hot Air Balloon Promotions over Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church on a balloon ride during one of the annual National Night Out Against Crime block parties on Tuesday. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Julie Krieger, 5, receives a purple bracelet from McGruff the Crime Dog during Night Out on Crime at Lee Park in Columbus on Tuesday. The Night Out on Crime event was hosted at seven locations around Columbus. City officials visited each location throughout the evening. Julie is the daughter of Colin and Desiree Krieger.

Julie Krieger, 5, receives a purple bracelet from McGruff the Crime Dog during Night Out on Crime at Lee Park in Columbus on Tuesday. The Night Out on Crime event was hosted at seven locations around Columbus. City officials visited each location throughout the evening. Julie is the daughter of Colin and Desiree Krieger.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Brooklyn Baker, 4, tosses a Frisbee during the Night Out on Crime event at Northhaven Woods Park in Columbus on Tuesday evening. Brooklyn is the daughter of Jack Baker and Treva Hicks.

Brooklyn Baker, 4, tosses a Frisbee during the Night Out on Crime event at Northhaven Woods Park in Columbus on Tuesday evening. Brooklyn is the daughter of Jack Baker and Treva Hicks.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Kristian Weatherby, 12, paints a butterfly for Cesia Zavala, 8, during the Night Out on Crime event at Northhaven Woods Park in Columbus on Tuesday. Kristian is the daughter of Mary and Chris Weatherby. Cesia is the daughter of Maria and Marvin Zavala.

Kristian Weatherby, 12, paints a butterfly for Cesia Zavala, 8, during the Night Out on Crime event at Northhaven Woods Park in Columbus on Tuesday. Kristian is the daughter of Mary and Chris Weatherby. Cesia is the daughter of Maria and Marvin Zavala.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

 

India Yarborough

 

 

Tuesday night at Lee Park in Columbus, 10-year-old Robert Newell, Jr. sat at a park picnic table with his family, waiting to meet the people behind the badges. 

 

Newell has dreamed for years of becoming a police officer when he's older, his mother Angela Word said, and this week's Night Out on Crime, hosted by the Columbus Police Department, gave her son the opportunity to learn more about his dream job. 

 

Word said with the negativity surrounding police officers lately, she thinks it's important for the Columbus community -- especially young people -- to interact with officers in a friendly setting. 

 

"I want them to know police officers by name, and I want the police officers to know their communities," Community Relations Officer Rhonda Sanders said. 

 

Sanders has organized Columbus' Night Out on Crime for 13 of the last 23 years the city has held its version of National Night Out, a community-building campaign celebrated in at least 16,000 communities nation-wide. 

 

Sanders, close to 60 of her fellow police officers, the mayor and Columbus city councilmen spent hours Tuesday night driving around town visiting seven designated sites: Lee Park, Northhaven Woods Park, Townsend Community Center, Sandfield Park, the East Columbus Gym, First United Methodist Church and Sim Scott Park, in that order. 

 

Sanders said this is the first year Columbus has had seven sites. 

 

"It has grown," she said. "We've been doing four sites for years." 

 

Sanders worked with neighborhood watch groups and the Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority to set up parties at locations she said were near high traffic or high crime areas. Each designated location had one or more site organizers, and Tuesday evening, while most officers traveled between sites, two police officers were permanently stationed at each park to answer questions and provide safety tips. 

 

According to Columbus resident Corissa Gunter, the police officers she met are friendly and approachable. 

 

"I feel like if I have a problem, I can go up and talk to them," she said. 

 

Gunter enjoyed her neighborhood's party at Northhaven Woods Park. As a speech therapist at Cook Elementary School in Columbus, Gunter said supporting children in her area is one of the reasons she attended. 

 

"With everything that's happening in the media with police officers, it's important that our kids know the majority of officers are good people and that they're here to help," she said. 

 

Mayor Robert Smith said the city provided almost $1,500 to be split among the seven event sites this year, and additional funds came from CPD's Black and White Ball, hosted at the Trotter Convention Center earlier last month to raise money for charitable causes. The donations helped event organizers advertise the parties and purchase food and inflatables to attract families. 

 

Sanders said the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services and multiple National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities from chapters across the Golden Triangle set up booths at the parties and volunteered to serve food. 

 

Smith, who said he's a big proponent of National Night Out, credits the growth of Columbus' campaign to community involvement, and he said Tuesday's events helped promote community, diversity and trust. 

 

"We're bringing the community together," said Police Chief Oscar Lewis, who has attended Night Out on Crime since his early years as a police officer for the city in the mid-1990s. "We're building those relationships to help fight crime and keep crime down. We definitely want (citizens) to trust us."

 

 

 

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