By Michael Romain
MAYWOOD — For several hours Tuesday, the grounds of Veterans Memorial Park underwent a carnival-like conversion. An inflatable bounce house was setup just behind the police station, a DJ was positioned further east and smoke from grills warming jumbo hotdogs tinted the early evening’s air.
“We come to give crime a going away party,” said Village Manager William Barlow to a crowd of hundreds. Mr. Barlow noted, “thousands of communities across the United States this very night, these very hours,” were celebrating the same cause.
Since 1984, communities across the United States and Canada have gathered on the first Tuesday of August, from 7pm to 10pm, to recognize National Night Out Against Violence. The event, sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, is designed to advance awareness about law enforcement programs and various anti-crime initiatives.
Maywood has been celebrating the event annually since 2004. Officer Pirsia Allen, the Maywood Police Department’s community policing officer, said that the event has fostered a greater sense of togetherness and unity between the police and the residents. He said that the turnout has gotten larger with each year.
Apart from an atmosphere of fraternity facilitated by hot dogs, free t-shirts, tumblers, praise dancers and live music, Officer Allen said that the event has a much larger, long-term purpose. “We’re trying to get citizens more involved and to come to our MAPS meetings. They can come out here and get informed about zone meetings,” he said.
“Tonight,” said acting Maywood police chief Commander Elijah Willis, addressing the crowd, “ask [these officers] whatever you want to ask them. You, the taxpayer, pay their salaries.”
MAPS is an acronym for Maywood Alternative Policing Strategies, a program that is the cornerstone of the Village’s overall community policing philosophy formally adopted in 1998.
According to Village’s website, the philosophy is based on a process of interaction “between police officers and citizens to mutually develop ways to identify problems and concerns and then assess viable solutions by providing available resources from both the police department and the neighborhoods.”
While MAPS is a policing program, Officer Allen was careful to note that it isn’t limited to policing issues. “Citizens get to know the officers in their zones and get familiarized with who they can talk to about a range problems like parking, code enforcement, public works, etc.”
After an array of entertainment that included resident Mack Woods’s guitar rendition of Earl Sweetwater’s “Stop the Violence;” several routines by praise dancers and a tumbling troupe from Maywood Fine Arts; and comments by speakers such as Phyllis Duncan of Moms Against Murdered Sons and Rev. Albert Johnson, a coterie of Village officials and workers gathered by the podium to end the night in a prayer.
Officers from both the Maywood police and fire departments, Mayor Perkins, Village trustees and Village manager Barlow locked hands with the crowd of residents—forming a crooked circle.
Mayor Perkins said that she hopes the enthusiasm of the night would congeal into a more permanent commitment on the part of the residents to be active in their own safety. “We’re asking that they continue to take part in their community and government. They’re the only ones who can make a difference.” VFP
For more information on the MAPS program, click here; or contact Officer Allen at 708-450-4409, or the Maywood Police Department at 708-450-4471.