LAUREL — Communities around the county celebrated the annual National Night Out on Aug. 6, where residents had the chance to interact with law enforcement members in a family-friendly environment where small children especially could get the chance to see police in a non-threatening space.
The community-building event sought to promote positive relationships between police and the communities they serve as well as neighborhood camaraderie. National Night Out events are held all over Prince George’s County every year on the first Tuesday in August, where neighborhoods host block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and more.
“National Night Out seeks to promote positive partnerships between law enforcement and the communities they serve across the nation,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a statement following the event. “In Prince George’s County, we are fortunate to already have strong relationships between public safety agencies and residents due to continued community engagement.”
One of those events was held at Granville Gude Park in Laurel. The crowded park consisted of moon bounces, crafts, food and a dunk tank as well as a display of police cars and fire trucks.
“It’s just a good way to give back to the community,” said Laurel Police Officer Romin Amini. “We’re always there for them, they always see us in different aspects. Why not show them we’re here to have a good time, we’re here to make life fun and enjoyable and to just have a good time.”
Representatives from the police, fire departments and the military took photos with residents and spoke to them in-depth about what they do. There were also members of various county organizations such as Community Advocates For Family and Youth (CAFY), The Sante Group and the census 2020 committee speaking to residents about their services.
The main event of the night was the swearing-in of the new Laurel police chief, Russ Hamill.
Hamill joined the Laurel Police Department in early June after briefly serving as the acting police chief of the Montgomery County Police Department (MCP). A member of the MCP for over 30 years, he took on many roles such as chief of the Investigative Services Bureau, commander of the 2nd District in Bethesda and director of the Criminal Investigations Division.
In addition to being a member of the MCP, Hamill was the chief of the Management Services Bureau, supervising, the Personnel Division, Legal and Labor Division, Policy and Planning Division and Management and Budget processes.
After being sworn in by the clerk to the city council, Hamill thanked the mayor, city council, staff, citizens and his family extensively and said that he understands the “enormous responsibility” he is taking on.
“I look forward to working with each of you and the men and women of this outstanding police department to help make Laurel a better place to live, a better place to visit and a place that people can thrive in as a community,” he said.
As the new police chief, Hamill wanted to emphasize the importance of the police department having a positive relationship with the community, the need for community policing as well as working with the community to achieve the goals of the police department and the city.
“I’ve been driving home certain points or philosophies of policing. None of these points are more important than the direction that every one of us on this police department has a responsibility for this community to provide the highest quality of police service as possible and that every member of this community is individually and collectively responsible for community policing,” Hamill said.
He also mentioned how participating in the long-standing National Night Out event is a great opportunity for the community to participate with the police department.
Laurel police officer James Watson called National Night Out a great chance to integrate with people, especially children, to teach a different way of living.
“Kids need to see that police are just not the guy that comes and takes dad away when he’s being mean to mom,” Watson said. “That’s mostly what they see and depending on which children you come in contact with that’s all they know that police are here to do bad things to you. It puts us in a positive light instead of a negative light for children.”
CaSandra Opoku-Anane was attending National Night Out for the second year in a row and agreed that the event allows children acclimated with the police at a young age.
“It helps kids to not see the police as an intimidating thing,” she said as she walked around the park with her young daughter. “If they see them in the community they will be more ready to go to them when they need help versus, ‘I’ve never seen a cop or I’ve never seen a firefighter or I’ve never seen these things,’ and it’s a little harder to teach them if they’ve never seen it themselves.”
Tasha McAllister, who attends National Night Out every year with her family, added that it is an opportunity for people to see the members of the police and fire department in a non-fearful and non-harmful way.
“It lets the community know that the police are out here and for us to build relationships so that we feel comfortable with our police department,” she said.