MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In 1984, the U.S. Department of Justice provided funding for a crime prevention initiative that would help build partnerships between police and the residents in their community.
National Night Out is marked in communities across the country on August 2nd.
Representatives from the office of the U.S. Attorney in the northern district of West Virginia will attend events tonight in Wheeling Park, Bridgeport, Clarksburg and Martinsburg.
“Every year that I attend, and I’m at the U.S. Attorney table wherever we may be, someone comes up to me and tells me something I didn’t know. They share a piece of information with me about something going on in their neighborhood,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports traffic related incidents in 2015 were the leading cause of death of officers. But, a recent ambush where 5 officers were killed during a planned and peaceful protest in downtown Dallas following police involved shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota is one example of concern for community and police relations.
The tension between residents and police isn’t as apparent in West Virginia. But, Ihlenfeld said it’s always important to improve relationships.
“Even though we have great trust between the community and police in West Virginia, tonight is an opportunity to build upon that and make it even stronger.”
As first responders, Ihlenfeld said police rarely get to talk one-on-one with the people they serve in informal, laid back environments.
“Normally when police encounter a police officer it’s maybe because they were driving too fast on I-79 or they’ve had to call the police because they’ve been the victim of a crime. This is a situation where you have a chance to have a normal conversation with a police officer to thank them for what they do.”
At night out events attended by Ihlenfeld representatives, there will be a drug prevention theme.
In 2013, there were more than 500 drug overdose deaths in West Virginia.
“It’s frightening. Even if we are able to get our arms around the problem today, what is it that we face tomorrow? We have to have a long term plan to deal with this issue,” Ihlenfeld said.
His office will be sharing drug testing kits with parents at National Night Out events.
National Night Out organizers are expecting over 16,000 communities and 38 million people to take part in community events on Tuesday across the country.