Not all interactions with police or first responders have to take place in times of conflict or danger. On a warm, clear Tuesday night in early August, residents of Dunkirk and Fredonia had a great opportunity to see that for themselves.
“It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, it seemed like a lot of people wanted to come out and have a good time,” said Fredonia Police Officer Ben Kravitz on Tuesday evening.
Dunkirk and Fredonia each hosted a National Night Out celebration, an event held by police departments and first responders across the country to promote positive engagement between local departments and their communities.
“The focal point of an event like this is to get the police involved with the community so that young kids can realize we are their friends, we’re not the bad guys. We’re here to help them if they ever need us,” Kravitz said.
Fredonia’s event, which began at 5 p.m. at Russell Joy Park, featured many amenities for a crowd that grew as the night went on.
“We had a lot of fun things to do here — some bounce houses for the kids, a DJ, free food — pizza, doughnuts … and then a bunch of cool cops,” Kravitz said with a smile.
The event was the second of its kind for Fredonia since its return a year ago. Fredonia Mayor Douglas Essek stressed the importance of the event.
“We look to make sure the community understands that our first responders are part of the community. They can trust and talk to them and rely on them,” he said. “I look forward to many more years of this continued success.”
Dunkirk’s event followed Fredonia’s at 6:30 p.m. at Washington Park. Tuesday marked the 29th consecutive year for the event in the city of Dunkirk since its inception.
“It is the 29th consecutive year for the city of Dunkirk hosting this event here in the city. That’s something to be proud of, because not all communities have been doing it that long consecutively,” said Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas.
Like Mayor Rosas, Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano is proud of the event and what it represents for the community his department serves.
“The partnership we have with the community that we serve is outstanding,” Ortolano said. “This is a night when our police officers, our firefighters, we can interact with the community in a 100 percent positive way. Usually when you see a police officer, it’s not something good, but this is a night where we can interact positively with everyone from our little kids to our senior citizens here tonight.”
Dunkirk’s event featured live music — including an appearance by Mayor Rosas playing the bongo drums — as well as a movie at dusk, free food and drinks, bounce houses for the kids to play in and police officers handing out balls to play with.
“This is a very important event for our community because it provides them with the opportunity to interact with our police officers, as well as our firemen, in another environment. They can interact and meet each other and get to know each other,” Rosas said. “This is a family-friendly affair here, not just for kids but we encourage parents to be here, as well, so they can all interact together. … We’re all here together. We’re one community and it’s good to see everyone enjoying themselves together.”
One highlight the two events shared was an appearance from Mo Sumbundu, a representative from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, who delivered an official proclamation from the State of New York signed by Hochul recognizing the efforts by local law enforcement and their engagement within their communities.
“This year we have been blessed with having a representative from the governor’s office, Mo Sumbundu, here with us. I think that’s important, to know that the governor and the state level in Albany know we are hosting this event. For (Gov. Hochul) to send a representative to read a proclamation shows that they are paying attention,” said Mayor Rosas.
While the governor’s office was paying attention to the good work of the local police and first responders, so were the members of the communities in attendance.
“It’s a good community event. I think having the police department here to support the community and create a safe environment helps a lot. It’s good for children to be around,” said Elizabeth English, a mother who brought her five-year-old twins, Cora and Jacob, to Fredonia’s National Night Out event. “I think it’s important for my children to grow up respecting and feeling comfortable with the law, because you never know when they may need (the police) and I want them to feel comfortable with getting the help that they need.”
Tuesday night for Kravitz — who played a big part in organizing Fredonia’s event — was one of the best nights on the job.
“I’d much rather be doing stuff like this than out writing tickets. I’d rather see those smiles on the face, it’s nice seeing all the kids having a good time and their parents enjoying it,” said Kravitz. “I’m thankful for having a wonderful community to live in and work in. It’s definitely a blessing to work in a small community like this. It makes the job so much more enjoyable.”
Essek, Rosas and Ortolano all praised the efforts of their local departments, volunteers and sponsors who helped make the event such a success in each community.
“It’s just a good night for the community to come together and think about public safety and think about what it takes to make that happen. We are very lucky that we have the community we do that stands behind us,” Ortolano said. “They support us 100 percent, and in turn we give 100 percent back to them for public safety.”