locally owned since 1854

National Night Out should be careful with location changes: Editorial

Posted 1/10/18

Middletown should be proud of its National Night Out. It not only has drawn thousands and thousands of people over the years to Hoffer Park, but it won a national award in 2016 as a sign of its …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

National Night Out should be careful with location changes: Editorial

Posted

Middletown should be proud of its National Night Out. It not only has drawn thousands and thousands of people over the years to Hoffer Park, but it won a national award in 2016 as a sign of its success.

Events such as this, however, are only as strong as the volunteers who run them. In recent years, the need for a larger volunteer pool has grown. Maybe Lower Swatara Township and its residents can help, as discussions are underway for Middletown to partner with them on future National Night Outs.

It’s an intriguing idea, but it means changes are afoot.

We certainly support both municipalities working together, but are concerned about how changing the location will affect the feel of the event.

Hoffer Park in Middletown has been the site of the event for years. Because Lower Swatara might be involved moving forward, Middletown Area High School (which is located in the township and is more central to the population of both municipalities) is being considered as a new location.

Access by car to the high school would be easier than at Hoffer Park, with plenty of parking. But what about people who walk to the event from neighborhoods at the core of the borough? Will they be as likely to drive to the high school? What about access to the M&H Railroad train? Free rides were a popular part of the National Night Out at Hoffer. That won’t be an option if the event is held at the high school. The Hoffer Park location also allowed children to play on the playground there.

We also need to keep in mind the purpose of National Night Out. While the carnival-like draw of the event has been great for the community and has drawn huge crowds, let’s look at the reason the event exists, according to National Night Out website:

“National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live. National Night Out enhances the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement while bringing back a true sense of community. Furthermore, it provides a great opportunity to bring police and neighbors together under positive circumstances.”

What is the best way to achieve those goals? Certainly, events such as free hot dogs and ice cream draw people in. A free ride on a train draws people in. All the vendors and bounce houses, a dunk tank, horseback rides, and the playground at Hoffer Park draw people to the event.

You might say those things get residents there. Then, for National Night Out to achieve its core goal, it takes the attendance of first responders, so that residents can meet them face to face and learn about different aspects of what police and firefighters do. Activities such as exploring the inside and roof of a firetruck, fingerprinting demonstrations, fire evacuation drills, and a DUI-related obstacle course — the types of things that first responders have brought to Middletown’s National Night Out — help build that bond.

The goal isn’t something that is easily measured. It’s most anecdotal. How can a stronger bond between the community and first responders be measured?

With that being said, we don’t have a problem with the scaled-down version of National Night Out that was held in 2017. The police officer in charge of it changed, from Gary Rux to Adam Tankersley, and the event was smaller. But it’s possible that it allowed for a more leisurely interaction between first responders and the community.

Trying a new venue, at least for a year, sounds like a good idea, as Council Vice President Dawn Knull seems to advocate.

But there is no question that holding National Night Out at the high school would change the feel of the event. How much it will change is the question.

Maybe the site could alternate between the two locations going forward if the municipalities continue to work together. We certainly believe that having a shared National Night Out between Middletown and Lower Swatara is better than each having its own.

The event is for the community and its first responders, to strengthen those bonds. Let’s hope these communities are able to reach that goal for many years.