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National Night Out events around Western Massachusetts build relationships between police, residents

Police and fire departments across the region are summarizing National Night Out events this week, offering everything from free ice cream and a chance to climb onto a fire engine to K-9 demonstrations and visits from the state police helicopter.

Traditionally National Night Out is held on the first Tuesday in August to give residents and police a chance to get to know each other, forge relationships and prevent crime. Each community has a different take on how to celebrate.

Springfield, for example, holds multiple neighborhood events often led by C3 community policing units. Chicopee attracts more than 1,000 residents at its large event held the day before the national event. The Russell-Montgomery Police Department is planning a family fun day and car show later in August.

And after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Westfield Police Department is trying something new. It joined forces this year with Westfield on Weekends Inc. and will hold a larger community event called Westfield’s Big Day/National Night Out on Saturday.

  • Chicopee: Monday, 5-9 pm, Sarah Jane Sherman Park

Traditionally Chicopee jumps the gun and holds its National Night Out on Monday so it doesn’t conflict with the City Council meeting. This year it will start at 5 pm in Sarah Jane Sherman Park off Chicopee Street. It ends at about 9 pm, culminating with a flashlight walk through the Willimansett neighborhood led by police.

“This year our theme is Team Chicopee,” said Police Capt. Holly Cote, who is co-chairing the event committee with Fire Lt. Katie Collins Kalbaugh and Rachel Beaulieu, special projects manager for Mayor John L. Vieau. “For Chicopee, it has really grown into a team event. Every department is involved.”

The event is always focused on first responders, but the School Department is running a basketball clinic while its Chicopee Fresh food program is cooking hot dogs from its new food truck. The library will bring its Bookmobile, Chicopee Electric Light is providing flashlights, the parks and public works departments are involved in a variety of ways, and the City Council will be handing out free food, Cote said.

In addition, the state police Air Wing is doing a helicopter flyover, the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department will be showing off specialized equipment, and the Westover Air Reserve Base Fire Department and its Explosives Ordinance Team will be attending. Several local dance schools will be performing, Home Depot will bring building kits and work with kids, Interstate Towing will bring its trucks, and Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni will have an informational table.

Some of the favorite activities, such as the police K-9 demonstrations, the rock climbing wall, bounce houses and the wing-eating contest between the Chicopee and Comprehensive high football teams, will be back as well, Cote said.

“One of the things is everything has to be free and available so it is inclusive and everyone can have fun,” she said.

The main sponsors this year are Polish National Credit Union, Westfield Bank and PeoplesBank. Many other businesses are also contributing money or supplies. Dozens of volunteers from different organizations are also assisting, she said.

Other National Night Out events planned Tuesday include:

  • Agawam: Tuesdays, 5-7:30 p.m., School Street Park. The band Changes in Latitude will perform, there will be K-9 and Jaws of Life demonstrations, and there will be free food. The local police and firefighters will be joined by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department and the state police helicopter.
  • Wares: Tuesdays, 6-8 p.m., Grenville Park. Police will join with the Quaboag Hills Substance Use Alliance to host the event. The police, fire and public works departments will be showing off equipment, K-9 handlers will put dogs through their peace, and there will be multiple other activities and giveaways.
  • Palmer: Tuesday, 5:30-8 p.m., police station. Police will join with Country Bank to host National Night Out at the police station, 4417 Main St. The fire department will attend with different vehicles children can climb into.

Other communities will have events later this month:

  • Westfield: Saturday, noon to 9 pm, Westfield Middle School

Westfield’s event, which will be held at the middle school athletic fields behind Amelia Park, off South Broad and West Silver streets, will include performances from six bands, multiple booths from businesses and artisans, children’s games and more.

There will also be at least 20 police and fire department-themed activities such as a cadet bike rodeo, drone demonstrations, K-9 demonstrations, police horses, a Jaws of Life demonstration and and a LifeStar helicopter on display. A “hidden in plain sight” trailer will show how parents can identify if teens are engaging in risky behavior.

The new event will offer a “distinctive showcase” of the community work of Westfield police and other community organizations that help to make the city safer and more livable, said Lt. Eric Hall, who is helping to organize the event.

Dozens of sponsors are helping to fund Westfield’s Big Day/National Night Out, including Westfield Gas & Electric, bankESB, Baystate Health, Baystate Noble Hospital, Firtion-Adams Funeral Services and Westfield Bank.

Springfield is holding six different events, each of which gives residents a chance to meet officers assigned to their neighborhoods. The events are:

  • 5-9 p.m., Emerson Wright Park, 510 Main St.
  • 3-6 p.m., City View Commons, 26 Federal Court
  • 3-6 p.m., Outing Park Apartments, 37 Saratoga St.
  • 3-6 p.m., Mason Square Apartments, 837 Main St.
  • 5:30-7:30 pm, Marshal Roy Park, 1437 Carew St.
  • 4-8 p.m., Myrtle Street Park

Activities vary but most involve police demonstrations, music and free food. Many of the events are being run in coordination with neighborhood councils and the managers of different housing complexes.

  • Russell: Aug. 21, noon to 5 pm, Strathmore Park

The Russell-Montgomery Police Department has a different take on National Night Out. This is the fourth year of the Family Fun Day and Car Show that will be held from noon to 5 pm Aug. 21 in Strathmore Park in Russell.

The concept of community building between residents and police is the same, even if it is held on a different day, said Chief Kevin Hennessey.

“There is a level of trust that is gained from events like this. People see the other side of the department and see officers as people,” he said.

While it is organized by the Russell and Montgomery police, it is really an event for all of the hilltowns and other departments, including Granville police. State police who patrol a lot of the region will also be there, he said.

“We want people to see the improvements in the departments up here. This is our chance to show everyone what is going on,” he said. “There has been a lot of updates. We have come out of the stone ages.”

Admission is free and there will be live music, bounce houses and a dunk tank. Police and fire departments will have displays and demonstrations and, of course, there is the car show, Hennessey said.

“Changing the date gives us more freedom. It is on a weekend day so we can make a day of it instead of a couple of hours,” he said. In the past as many as 400 people have attended.

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