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AUBURN — In 1984, a town watch association introduced the "National Night Out Program" in Philadelphia with the goal of building a better relationship with law enforcement. Now, more than 16,000 communities participate in the event nationwide and Auburn is one of them. 

On Tuesday night, the Auburn Police Department hosted its first National Night Out Block Party at Hoopes Park. However, rather than focusing on the city police, the department partnered with several other law enforcement agencies and community organizations in an effort to showcase other services in the area.

School Resource Officer Vince Carnicelli said it was important that the event highlight more than local law enforcement as many people may not know what the city and county has to offer. 

"It's supposed to be a police community event, but I always think it takes everybody to police a city," he said. "We can't be everywhere. So I thought if we could get everybody together meeting people on a good note instead of in crisis, maybe they'll be more likely to search for help if they need it or at least know what's out there." 

Auburn Police Sgt. Greg Dann estimated between 15 and 20 organizations accepted the department's invitation to participate, including Cayuga Counseling Services, the Rescue Mission, Auburn Housing and the Cayuga County Probation Department. New York State Police, the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office, TLC Ambulance and the Auburn Fire Department also had trucks and staff on scene. 

"The community policing philosophy basically says in order for you to understand and react to your residents, you have to interact with them, and National Night Out is just another opportunity to do that," Dann said. "It's about law enforcement and the community coming together to develop a relationship and make the community a safer place." 

Both Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler and Deputy Police Chief Roger Anthony said the block party continued the department's efforts for community policing. Butler said he had his officers "dress down" in a grey shirt and tan pants in order to seem more approachable to younger members of the community who may be intimidated by the traditional uniform. 

"This just gives police officers a different venue to engage with the public and the community that they serve," Butler said. "Even though we want to teach our parents and our kids ... to go to a police officer in any type of danger or trouble, unfortunately that's not always the case. So this is a good avenue for us to get young people interacting and talking to us in a fun atmosphere." 

Anthony added, "It's part of our overall community outreach initiative to have the police department more involved in the community so they know us personally and not just professionally." 

Kelly Cook said she attended the event with her husband, Matt, and their 11-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, in an effort to support the community. She acknowledged some of the negative perceptions surrounding police and felt the block party was a great opportunity to build rapport with law enforcement. 

"I know that police have been getting a bad rap all around, so I thought it was a great effort on their part to be more known in the community," Cook said. "I know they've done Coffee with a Cop, but I think this is more family oriented. ... I think it's a great idea and a way to support the community." 

Sarah Portipilo, who brought her husband, Joe, and 6-year-old children, Seth and Sophie, agreed. 

"I think all of our first responders, especially police officers, are looked at in a different light this day and age, so I think this is wonderful," she said. "It just goes to show they have so much to offer." 

Staff writer Megan Blarr can be reached at (315) 282-2282 or megan.blarr@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @CitizenBlarr. 

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Crime and Courts Reporter