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Area police departments celebrate National Night Out

Annual event delayed due to COVID-19

Officers and community members met Tuesday night for National Night Out.
Officers and community members met Tuesday night for National Night Out.

ROANOKE, VA. – Tuesday night, police departments across the country and right here in Southwest Virginia gathered for National Night Out, an event designed to build connections and work on crime reduction.

It’s normally in August, but this year the pandemic delayed things a bit as people stayed home

In Roanoke, police chief Sam Roman spent the early evening chalking sidewalks around town and chatting it up with some community members. He and his officers wore masks, and while that looked different than normal, at the root the event is still the same.

“I’ll say it again and I’ll say it over and over again, no law enforcement agency is going to be successful in reduction of crime unless we have great relationships with our community, and that’s what we endeavor to do," Roman said.

National Night Out brings neighborhood groups together with officers and other public safety officials. In Lynchburg, police chief Ryan Zuidema said 2020 has been the year of engagement for his department, with both the pandemic and civil unrest.

“If we’ve heard anything as part of this movement, it’s that we’re going to continue to listen to our residents you know we’ve got our listening sessions this summer since then we’ve got a lot of really good feedback from folks in our community," Zuidema said.

The event is designed to bring law enforcement and the community together, building bridges between the two. Botetourt County Sheriff Matt Ward said this kind of experience is best served with food and a side of fun.

“This is fantastic to see the community coming in, this is what we want to bring an atmosphere for our law enforcement where we can introduce our law enforcement officers to the community in a non-enforcement environment," Ward said.

This year other first responders like firefighters and paramedics were brought into the fold as these public servants' visibility continues increasing. Roman said it’s all about keeping an eye toward the future and working on that goal.

“I like to give less attention to what the relationships are like and more attention to what opportunities exist to create better relationships," Roman said.