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National Night Out: A chance to rebuild trust, relationships after a year of unrest

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 5:00 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 2, 2021 at 5:14 PM CDT
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Tuesday night, August 3rd, thousands of parks, community centers and neighborhoods across the country will fill with people of all ages for National Night Out.

It happens every August, except last year due to COVID-19, but this year, it’s a little different, creating an opportunity for police to rebuild relationships broken during recent civil unrest.

Police are rolling out the red carpet and seizing the chance to build trust with the people they serve.

“This year is really, really important because it shows the community and the police department we are neighbors with them,” says De Pere Community Resource Officer Jedd Bradley.

At Willow Creek Park in Bellevue, the signs are out, the park is prepped and the scene is being set to fill the park with hundreds of people Tuesday night.

“We’ve got everything from the different police vehicles, fire department, bounce houses, obstacle courses. We have a few food truck vendors,” describes Deputy Trevor Bilgo with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.

Add in a bike safety course, Eagle III, archery, face painting and gift giveaways, and you’ve got the perfect mix for one of dozens of National Night Out celebrations happening across Northeast Wisconsin.

“I think the officers get more excited than the kids do. We really do, and there’s nothing better than to have that child come to us in an event like this, and then when they really need us, being able to say, hey, there’s a friendly face. I remember that,” says Bradley.

“We’ve had kids we run into at different parks or even on some calls, where they’re like, hey, you’re the National Night Out guys, and that right there sums it all up for us,” says Bilgo, who’s also the Directed Enforcement Officer for the Village of Bellevue.

National Night Out started nearly four decades ago with block parties as a way to help neighbors get to know each other and prevent crime.

While that mission is still at the core, this year it offers a chance to bridge a divide created after a year of civil unrest and a magnifying glass placed on policing across the country.

“It was very uneasy. Driving around in your squad, you got looks just because you were in a uniform,” recalls Bilgo. “That really made us all rethink and go how can we re-approach this? So once COVID lifted, this was a program that had to happen.”

“I think this is a stepping stone,” says Bradley. “It’s our job as a police department to go out in these communities, and I feel this year, people are going to have a lot of questions, which we encourage, and that’s part of this, too. Talk to any of the officers. Ask us questions.”

Whether child or adult, officers hope it’s a chance to see them as neighbors working -- not against -- but alongside the community.

The Bellevue and Allouez National Night Out event runs from 5-8 p.m. at Willow Creek Park in Bellevue, and a movie will follow.

Meanwhile, De Pere will have several block parties happening throughout a few neighborhoods.

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