Nearly 200 NJ towns will celebrate National Night Out on Tuesday
Since 1984, National Night Out has grown from the initial, hyperlocal concept of turning on a porch light, sitting outside for an hour, and waving at police vehicles and fire trucks passing by, to a community celebration of neighborhoods getting to know their first responders.
After a couple of down years due to COVID-19, the annual tradition is back for 2022 with 189 New Jersey municipalities signed up to participate Tuesday night, as of the final weekend before the event.
Matt Peskin, NNO national project coordinator, said the Garden State has been closely involved since that first National Night Out 38 years ago, and more jurisdictions than ever are showing interest.
"There are a lot of new ones. The ones that are always in it traditionally, every year, I know them. There are a lot of towns I don't know," Peskin said.
Part of the reason for the increased participation could be a COVID rebound, according to Peskin, but he added that residents are in tune with their neighborhoods -- and what's happening outside their borders too.
"People see what's going on in terms of crime, violence, around the country," he said. “It's hard to get up every morning and see that on the news, and most people are law-abiding and they want to do something."
While National Night Out is not necessarily directly focused on engaging with children, Peskin said face painting, clowns, bounce houses, and similar activities are common in many towns.
The evening now has more of a block party or cookout feel, and has become more interactive year after year, encouraging positive interactions with kids.
"Not a burglary, not a fire, not a medical emergency, but under a cool setting whether it's a festival or on a block, and then the kids get to learn that the officers, the firemen, the EMS are your friends," Peskin said.
Registration begins in February of each year for that August’s event, but Peskin said smaller versions of National Night Out do exist.
"All of those that participate are required to register. There's no cost to register," he said. "But are there going to be some that do it that aren't registered? Sure, but that's just kind of an overflow."
Peskin does encourage communities that strike out on their own to at least inform their local police departments, so they can stop by and have the option to get involved.