First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON — Lt. Ertle Jones of the Lumberton Police Department will be the first to tell you that it’s not possible to totally stop crime. But community events like those held Tuesday for National Night Out can make criminals think twice about preying on neighborhoods, he said.
“Since we started celebrating National Night Out about five years ago, there has been a decrease in criminal activity such as breaking and entering,” he said. “This is a celebration of crime-free communities. It’s a way to get communities to come together and show they are united.”
Lumberton, Fairmont, Pembroke, Red Springs and Maxton on Tuesday joined communities across the country in celebrating the event that is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. Held on the first Tuesday of August since 1984, the national celebration aims to increase the awareness of police programs in communities, including drug prevention, town watch and other crime efforts.
About 300 people turned out at the Lumberton Plaza for the fun-filled night of activities. Music was provided and there was plenty of free ice cream.
There were a variety of information booths; people could register to vote; finger printing was available; and there was a fire truck demonstration. Children splashed around in the plaza fountain to find relief from the heat.
Seven-year-old Ashley Bethea liked the local fire department’s smoke house demonstration the best.
“It was smoky in there,” Ashley said. “I learned about fires.”
Firefighter Roger Garcia explained that the smoke house is used to teach children how to escape from a burning building.
“If children have the knowledge of how to escape a burning building, it will save lives,” he said.
National Night Out serves as one way for a good relationship to be built between law enforcement and the community, said Jones, who serves as the city Police Department’s liaison with the area’s seven community watch organizations.
“We want people, especially kids, to know that we are there to help them in the good times, not just when bad things happen,” Jones said.
“I try to come out here every year,” Gail Nobles. “This is for a good cause. It is also a good opportunity for a family to get out and have fun.”
Fairmont resident Marc Vickers, who brought his 5-year-old daughter Mya to the event, agreed that the Night Out celebration is an excellent community event.
“It’s definitely good for education,” he said. “It lets people know, especially criminals, that the community stands together.”
Pembroke put on a grand event with song, dance, speeches, marches, drumming and food.
The afternoon’s sizzling temperatures didn’t stop more than 250 men, women and children who congregated at Pembroke’s new recreation area. It was the town’s second National Night Out event hosted by the Lumbee Tribe.
“We’re trying to alleviate some of the crime in Robeson County,” said Wanda Locklear, one of the organizers. “We’re all concerned when it seems like every time we pick up the newspaper there’s a teenager accused of a crime … it’s not just a Lumbee problem — it’s a Robeson County problem.”
In a loud proclamation, Emma Andrade told the crowd, “There are drugs and violence in our community, everywhere. We need to stop it now!”
Larry McNeill, a town councilman, was overjoyed to see the big turnout.
“This is a chance to bring everybody together, to unite people more and more … to help folks, show them the direction they need to go,” McNeill said. He went on to thank the Lumbee Tribe for its hard work to “enhance” the town and community.
“It’s a great opportunity for youth to meet police officers,” said Jimmy Goins, tribal leader, about the benefits of National Night Out.
Goins said some young people think of police officers as the enemy, but “here they can find out they’re our friends … they can talk to them one on one and open lines of communication.”
Pembroke Police Chief Frank Hernandez agreed.
“It’s important to let people know we’re involved in crime prevention,” he said. “This gives people the chance to get to know their neighbors, their peers.”
Miss UNCP Jamee Hunt, who served as master of ceremonies, said the event serves to put police in a positive light for youths.
“It teaches them to trust adults and not to be afraid of the police,” she said.
The Young Society drum group performed to honor all the loved ones lost to violence.
Looking over the large crowd, Ellen Lowry, unit manager at the Pembroke Boys & Girls Club, said: “It’s really grown since last year.” About 100 turned out for the event in 2007.
“This is a great event,” Town Manager McDuffie Cummings said. “This is where it starts — it’s got to start with the children.”