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Dayton Police Department Visits Neighborhoods For National Night Out

A police officer talking to a community member at the Huffman Historic District neighborhood.
Chris Welter
A police officer talking to a community member at the Huffman Historic District neighborhood.

Earlier this month was National Night Out — an annual community-building campaign that promotes positive relationships between neighbors and their local police.

The campaign has been an on-going event for the last 38 years as a way for communities to meet their local police, host block parties and cookouts, and to build neighborhood camaraderie.

The Dayton Police Department was one of the many local agencies that took part in the event. They started on one side of the city, and as the night went on they traveled to neighborhoods in four different parts of town.

Despite the efforts to invite the community to come out, the reception the police got was very different depending on what neighborhood they stopped in.

By late afternoon the music was already playing at the Northwest Dayton library branch when about 50 police officers and various city officials arrived in a caravan of buses, patrol cars and motorcycles

Alejandro Figueroa
Children visiting the Northwest Metro Library receiving toys from officers.

The library staff had organized a barbecue, and there were outdoor activities for the cops and the kids. They ate hot dogs together, threw bean bags, and played with a giant Jenga set. The police also gave out toy handcuffs, water guns and whistles to the kids.

Matt Carper, Dayton’s interim Chief of Police, says he’s participated in the event on and off for the last 29 years he’s been in the department.

“It’s kind of a celebration of the partnerships that we’ve created throughout the year,” Carper said. “Sometimes we’ll see new faces, we’ll see kids, a lot of times we’ll see very familiar faces that we’ve been working with for several years.”

After about a half an hour, the caravan moved on. They drove to Southwest Dayton, to the Edgemont Solar Garden. There, turnout wasn’t as strong.

Chris Welter
Omope Carter Daboiku, the Garden Manager at Edgemont laughing with a visiting police officer. At the garden, police and other city officials toured the farm and got to take some of the produce grown in the garden.

James Price is a board member of the garden. He said COVID-19 is still keeping many people indoors and that many of the residents near the garden were elderly. He was hoping more children would come.

“I was hoping that my granddaughter wasn’t going to be the only one that was a child here," Price said. "So that kids can meet the police and see that you don’t have to be afraid of them. You can talk to them and it's not like some of the things like you see on the T.V.”

At the Huffman Historic District in east Dayton the scene was more lively. Neighbors had lawn chairs on the street, and children were running around and eating ice cream. Noel Carpenter of the Huffman neighborhood was helping out with the ice cream at a neighbor's porch.

“We've got a lot of chairs. We’re just hoping that everybody comes and maybe gets to meet a neighbor they didn’t know, meet somebody,” Carpenter said. “I think that’s the best thing about this neighborhood. I know way more of my neighbors here than I have anywhere I’ve ever lived. So you always know a friendly face when you’re walking around.”

Lt. Matt Beavers said the turnout was better than he thought it was going to be despite COVID-19. He says sometimes people tend to focus on a negative perception of the police, and that campaigns like the National Night Out helps change that perception.

“It's more of a laid back environment so that people can ask questions, sit and talk rather than seeing us pull up on a crime,” Beavers said. “It is different than that. We get a lot of positivity, more than what people might think.”

The Dayton Police Department originally had planned to visit the Oregon District too. Chief Carper says that it got cancelled to let organizers prepare for the two year anniversary of the Oregon district shooting.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America. He particularly covers the efforts by local organizations and government agencies to address a problem that has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.