BANGOR, Maine — Stillwater Park off Howard Street was busier than usual for a summertime weeknight, with hundreds of children and adults on hand for the Bangor Police Department’s National Night Out event.
Among the families that turned out were Justin and Renissa Cox and their four children, ages 2 through 9.
Though they have not personally been touched by crime in their neighborhood, the Ohio Street couple said drug activity in the area was their chief concern, given some of the recent arrests in Bangor for trafficking and other drug-related crimes.
“We see a lot of traffic that could be related,” said Justin Cox, who noted that he moved to Maine from Massachusetts to get away from the criminal activity that was going on there seven years ago.
As some of their children were getting ready for their turn in the bounce house brought in for the event, the Coxes said that their children were particularly excited to see the Bangor Police Department bomb squad’s robot and to have a chance to sit in some of the Police Department’s response vehicles.
National Night Out is a unique crime and drug prevention event sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. More than 15,000 communities in all 50 states and Canada and military bases worldwide participate every year. The free public safety event is designed to serve the city’s children and families.
The idea is to encourage neighborhoods to engage in stronger relationships with each other and law enforcement to heighten crime and drug prevention and foster neighborhood spirit and solidarity.
Tuesday evening’s National Night Out event in Bangor was the fourth held since 2012, when the local edition debuted at Second Street Park. Since then, attendance has roughly tripled, with an estimated 300 expected to turn out within the event’s two-hour timeframe, Community Relations Officer Jason McAmbley said.
When the first event took place in 2012, the city had only one neighborhood watch group, the West Side Watch. Since then, four more groups have formed — the East Side Watch, the Bangor North Watch, the Bangor Central Watch and the Bangor Gardens Watch, McAmbley said.
Bangor Police Chief Mark Hathaway said the neighborhood watches do make a difference.
“Absolutely, they do work,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to connect with the neighborhoods. That is very important.”
Hathaway said the National Night Out events also help police form better bonds with residents, from the very young to the older set.
“I do think these work, and I’m hoping that in years to come, we can have more of these on the East Side and the West Side,” he said, adding that he hoped to bring the annual night out gatherings to other city parks, including Fairmount Park.
Steve Hicks, a Sanford Street resident and part of the West Side Watch, agreed.
“They do help. This lets you establish a relationship with police. You can kind of see things from their point of view,” he said.
With regard to crime statistics, Bangor saw a total of 1,733 reported crimes, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety’s Uniform Crime Reporting Division’s annual report for 2014, the most recent year available.
Of those, there was one murder, four rapes, 22 robberies, 28 cases of aggravated assault, 182 burglaries, 1,474 larceny cases, 22 motor vehicle thefts and seven arsons.
The vast majority of crimes in Bangor that year were property crimes, at 1,678, according to areavibes.com, which derives its crime statistics from the FBI’s uniform crime reports.