By Patrick Donachie

The field at Cambria Playground in Cambria Heights Tuesday evening was filled with kids, parents, community members and cops for the National Night Out event sponsored by the 105th Precinct. Officers were drenched in the dunk tank while others fired up the grills to offer hamburgers and hot dogs to attendees.

Officers and community members alike said the evening reinforced bonds between the police and community in contrast to national tensions, although people noted that the 105th had a strong relationship with the surrounding community.

“It’s wonderful to see the police officers and community together. For one night, we are neighbors as opposed to strangers,” Bass DeBetham, a board member of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton, said, stressing that building trust between the two groups was paramount. “We don’t want them to fear us, and we don’t want to be feared.”

DeBetham said she was concerned about the effect that news of police misconduct and harassment has on children, a worry that was echoed by Yolette Rousseau, a teacher and Cambria Heights resident. She said there were undoubtedly incidents and issues between police and community throughout the city and country, but she worried about how constant coverage of those incidents was creating anxiety in her students.

“They’re bombarded by the harsh news of our time and don’t have enough of this to balance the picture,” she said, gesturing to the early evening scene of kids at play. “I don’t think the media understands the damage that it does.”

In addition to parents, children and officers, a number of elected officials made appearances, including Council Members I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and Donovan Richards (D-Arverne), state Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and state Sen. James Sanders (D-Rochdale Village).

Additionally, candidates in upcoming primary elections made the rounds, including Community Board 12 chair Adrienne Adams, who is running against Sanders in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, and candidates to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, including Roy Paul, Nantasha Williams and Clyde Vanel.

Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, who commands the 105th, said he had been told that turnout exceeded the prior year’s and pointed out that the communication between community and cops during events like these could pay dividends throughout the year, as people alert officers to crime in order to prevent it. He also said while the 105th had a strong relationship with the community, anything that could help to bridge a fragile gap between officers and residents was welcome.

“This kind of thing heals and it brings dialogue,” he said. “There’s nothing bad about something like this.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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