This photo was snapped a couple of years ago here in town, as Kilgore Police Chief Todd Hunter spoke to a crowd at David Barrett‘s “National Night Out for Rockbrook.” This year, Kilgore PD is hoping to make the event better than ever.

Each fall in Kilgore, there is one evening in particular when you can smell barbecue cooking and find neighbors sharing potato salad and conversation with local police officers, the mayor and city council members.

National Night Out, founded in 1984, “{span class=”st”}is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie”, according to the website of the National Association of Town Watch.{/span}

National Night Out is sponsored by the NATW, aimed at heightening community awareness and curtailing crime, especially with drug-prevention efforts. While communities across the United States celebrate NNO in early August, most Texas towns opt to beat the heat and push the celebration back a couple of months. This year, NNO’s all across the country are being pushed to October to account for the predicted continued threat of COVID-19.

KPD Support Lt. Terry Linder is excited about this year’s NNO events in Kilgore, which will mark the 37th year the event has been celebrated nationwide.

“The whole thing is to try to be a nationally coordinated effort to bring crime prevention back to neighborhoods, to get people to know their neighbors and know the police officers,” Linder said.

“It’s always been something that we’ve made a pretty good effort at here in Kilgore but it’s my goal to make it a little bit bigger: start earlier, get more participation, not only in the parties, but trying to get our elected officials out to parties. We usually have representation from the DA’s offices, the sheriff’s offices, fire, EMS. We try to get all these other elected officials and public servants so people can actually know their representatives.”

Linder said the opportunity for face-to-face interactions with community members will also create an opportunity for KPD to share information about programs which can be helpful to citizens. It also gives KPD the ability to take in information on how they can help various neighborhoods.

It’s a chance for us to go over all the programs, like Smart911, and encourage them to follow our social media platforms. Sometimes we talk about neighborhood trends, depending on what neighborhood we’re in. If you didn’t have a back and forth, you couldn’t tell us, ‘hey, we have these problems in our neighborhood or here’s stop sign that’s being run all the time.’ It gives us feedback on things where people think it’s not important enough to call the police right now but something that is an ongoing problem.”

The event only happens once a year so Linder said he and the rest of KPD are eager to make the most out of the event.

While many NNO events in other states were moved back to October to account for efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, Texas NNO events are already set for the second Tuesday of October, when the summer heat has started to subside, allowing long, friendly conversations over plates of barbecue enjoyed in lawn chairs.

In previous years, Linder has hosted an NNO party of his own and says each year has been a great opportunity for community fellowship.

“It’s always good topics. We have a lot of police officers who live here so a lot of times at our party, we’ll have several officers and neighbors. Everybody east and gets to know each other and visits. Sometimes it feels unfortunate it’s only once a year but you have to have a designated time.”

Linder also said the face-to-face meetings allowed for more personal, one-on-one conversations between residents and city officials. This, he said, is not as stressful or intimidating as addressing the city council at a meeting and, as a result, the discussions can take on a more natural feel.

The need for additional dialogue was demonstrated at a protest march in Kilgore following the death of George Floyd in police custody and Linder said NNO was a great opportunity to strengthen the dialogue between Kilgore officials, officers and residents.


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