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Aug 2, 2016 10:16 PM

NH police departments connect with communities for National Night Out

PORTSMOUTH - In the midst of a summer that will be remembered for police shootings across the country, New Hampshire police departments and communities participated in a national event in an effort to heal and connect local officials with the people they serve.

National Night Out Against Crime is a national event that began more than 30 years ago to build relationships between police departments, fire departments, emergency services, and other local officials and the communities they live an work in.

The annual event fell on Tuesday this year, and many New Hampshire communities participated, including Portsmouth, who has taken part in the event for nearly 20 years.

"It's to raise awareness for crime prevention, but more importantly, it's a good way for police to get out there and meet the people in the neighborhoods," said Portsmouth Police Chief David Mara. "It's a good way to interact with them outside of a time of need."

Portsmouth organized events in nearly 20 neighborhoods across the city on Tuesday. While he said safety is always the department's priority, Chief Mara explained that residents participating in the gatherings had no reason to feel unsafe.

"They're like block parties, so people are going to feel safe," he said. "They're in their neighborhoods. They're safe in Portsmouth."

Recently, police departments across the country have been attacked, and officers have been taken down while on duty. Mara added participating in the event is a way to show residents the department works hard not only to keep them safe but to show there's no reason for that kind of violence in New Hampshire.

"All we do is engage them," he said about the department's efforts. "The police officers of Portsmouth are professionals. They follow their training, and they treat everybody with respect, and if you do that, you shouldn't have any problems."

Mara also said the Night Out was as much for the residents as it was for his people.

"This isn't about trying to convince people they're safe," he said. "For us, it's about saying, 'Hey, we're here for you. We want to get to know you. Here's who we are,' and I think that's the important thing to do on a night like tonight."

Residents who attended the event at the Gosling Meadows recreation grounds certainly embraced this message. The New Frontiers Church sponsored the event and had bouncy houses, face painting, volleyball, music, food, and more.

"It's exciting to see, especially all these young people," said Sharon Moore, a member of the church who helped organize the event. "They need to know law enforcement is on their side and they're there to protect them and keep them from danger, and keep our communities safe for them as they grow up."

Police officers and members of the fire department visited the gathering -- as well as other locations hosting Night Out events -- to introduce themselves and interact with residents of all ages. Kids received badge stickers and got to sit in the driver's seat of a city firetruck.

Organizers of the Gosling event were encouraged by the number of people participating, especially once the officials arrived.

"There's so much negativity out there," Moore added. "This is a good way of creating something positive."

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