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Communities Take A ‘National Night Out’ to Battle Crime

August 9, 1989

Undated (AP) _ Tolling bells, sirens, flashing search lights and block parties marked the sixth annual National Night Out as people sat under porch lights and chatted with neighbors Tuesday in an effort to push criminals from the streets.

In Washington, FBI Director Williams Sessions turned a huge switch, lighing a giant light bulb to kick off the event, which he called a ″symbol of solidarity and determination.″

Matt Peskin, creator of the program for the National Association of Town Watch Inc., said people from two communities in Minnesota formed a human chain across a bridge to symbolize two neighborhoods uniting to fight crime.

″Most people want to be neighborly, but they need some excuse, some catalyst,″ Peskin said.

In Rochester, N.Y., a ″dunk-the-criminal booth″ allowed residents to take out their frustrations on a man dressed as a criminal.

Sponsors of the event, based in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, arranged to have the U.S. Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite photograph the country to show the glow of porch lights switched on for the event.

The Strategic Air Command plans to give sponsors a composite picture of the event created by one pass of the satellite over the eastern United States at 9:30 p.m. and a photograph of the western half a few hours later.

Peskin said more organized events were held this year than last, possibly explaining the increased participation. By the end of the night, Peskin expected 20.5 million Americans in more than 7,600 communities to participate.

″It gives them something to do besides sitting on their porch,″ Peskin said.

Churches in Union City, N.J., tolled their bells and fire stations sounded their sirens Tuesday night.

Police officers involved in crime control stressed that the idea behind the evening was to involve residents in prevention by getting to know their neighbors and reporting crime when they see it.

″The police department cannot do this all alone. They must have the help of the citizens,″ said Joseph Cupparo, the crime prevention officer for the Camden, N.J., Police Department.

In Orange, N.J., police and citizens started with a rally Tuesday in front of a building that has been plagued by drug dealers, said police Lt. Don Wactor.

″People there are virtual prisoners,″ he said. ″We’re trying to send a message to criminals that we’re taking the streets back,″ he said.

Neighborhood watch groups in Hartford and other Connecticut cities were celebrating with block parties and barbecues that featured police officers as guests of honor.

In New York City, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer held a candlelight march with residents active in local anti-drug campaigns. In Queens, police registered bicycles and cars so they can be returned if they are stolen and recovered.

On Houston Street, a seedy thoroughfare on the Lower East Side of Manhattan frequented by alcoholics and the homeless, residents held a karate demonstration and an after-dark dance contest featuring the latest rap and disco sounds.

Manhattan residents also held National Night Out gatherings inside Central Park and at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations.

National Night Out presents an award each year to the city that saw the largest decrease in crime. Last year, Houston won the cup when major crime decreased 48 percent on the night of the event.

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