Tampa, St. Pete Police Chiefs say National Night Out is key to improving police-community relations

Event crucial following widespread police protests
Posted at 7:09 PM, Oct 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-04 19:09:29-04

Protests calling for police accountability have become a common occurrence across the U.S. in 2016.

National Night Out is an opportunity for local police departments to improve community outreach and turn negative perceptions into positive results.

The annual event features free food, music, entertainment and opportunities to meet officers with K9, SWAT, and mounted police units.

“I think the more open and transparent we are with the community, the better relationship we’re going to have," said Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward.

Chief Ward admits that there's more work to be done nationally to improve the reputation of law enforcement.

Recently, officer-involved shootings have led to widespread, sometimes violent protests in cities like Charlotte.

“This is an opportunity for us to mend those bonds," said Chief Ward.  "To come out and see that the officers are human.  They’re going to make mistakes and when they make those mistakes, we’re going to take the opportunity to learn from them and move forward.”

Police departments in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater are participating in National Night Out Tuesday.  

Those departments hope to spread the message that police show up to do more than make arrests and say this year's event is more important than ever before.  

“9 times out of ten when you see us, it’s a negative contact," said St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.  "So, we want to change that around... you’re getting to know who I am one-on-one.”  

Chief Holloway initiated "Park, Walk, and Talk" to help officers connect with the community they patrol.

Officers in St. Petersburg are required to spend at least one hour per week interacting and building relationships.

“I think that’s where we are losing a lot, that we’re not having these conversations," said Chief Holloway.  "We’re waiting for something to happen, then have a conversation.  Let’s get in front of this and let’s start talking now.”\

National Night Out festivities run from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday:

  • Tampa
    • MacFarlane Park - 1700 North Macdill Ave.  
    • Copeland Park - 11001 North 15th St.  
    • West Meadows Community Center - 8401 New Tampa Blvd.
    • Fair Oaks Park - 5019 North 34th St.
  • St. Petersburg
    • Target parking lot - 8151 Dr. MLK Jr. St. North
  • Clearwater
    • Super Target at Clearwater Mall - 2747 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd.