SOMERVILLE, NJ – Perhaps more than any other borough police officer, Vittorio Spadea is the most recognizable cop in town.
He’s the cop pedaling his police bicycle up and down Main Street and the side streets of the borough, waving to pedestrians and motorists, stopping occasionally to talk with residents.
He’s has more one-on-one contact with kids and adults in town than most of his fellow officers. He’s a regular visitor to the borough’s schools, and is equally comfortable in front of a classroom as he is behind the wheel of a patrol car.
He hands out more pens, water bottles and mouse pads than he does summonses, and is equally comfortable in front of a classroom as he is in a patrol car.
“Officer Vito” is the department’s community officer, a goodwill ambassador whose job it is to reach out and connect with the borough’s 12,000 residents, the 9-5 business community and the increasing numbers of visitors that come to town weekdays and weekends to shop, dine and browse downtown.
Highly visible, well-liked and well-known, there’s one thing few of those people know about the affable police officer.
He’s also an entertainer, and will be center stage playing music at the borough’s annual “Night Out” celebration on Tuesday night, Aug. 1, from 6-9 p.m. at Carol Pager Park on Green Street, between North Bridge Street and Davenport Street.
Turns out that being a DJ is second nature to Spadea, although it’s not something he does too often.
“It’s something I picked up in college, more of a hobby than anything else; I’ve had the equipment since college,” he said.
“I stay with it, do things here and there,” he added, usually for a good cause like fund raisers for fire departments. “But I really don’t put myself out there too often.”
Hosted by the Somerville Police Department, there will be free hot dogs, drinks and ice cream, free giveaways and raffles, a bounce house, music and other games and activities.
Members of the police department, volunteer fire departments, and first aid squads will be on hand for demonstrations; the borough Recreation Department will host pickleball and other games.
Mayor Brian Gallagher, members of the Borough Council and other borough officials will also attend.
Several Somerville businesses have also pitched in to sponsor the event, which is observed throughout the nation, an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make neighborhoods safer, better places to live.
“The continuing success of Night Out is a testament to Somerville and our police department, their ability to communicate and reach out to everybody in Somerville, all residents of all ages it’s a great night, a lot of fun and a lot of laughs,” said Gallagher.
“There’s great interaction with everybody in the community,” Gallagher continued. “It’s a great opportunity for residents all over town to get together, meet the police officers, council members, to see what’s available in the recreation department, it’s just a wonderful evening.”
Spadea welcomes the opportunity to nurture relationships between the community, the police department and other emergency services.
“Night Out is a way to get the community together with the police department, emergency personnel, fire and rescue; most of them don’t know who they are. This makes it more personal,” Spadea said.
This year’s event takes on added significance because of the heightened tensions between police departments and citizens across the country, according to Spadea.
“In light of what’s going on today, we want to show everyone that we are a community-based police department,” Spadea added.
“We know our citizens, we know who lives in town and we want them to know we are approachable,” Spadea said.
“You want to walk down the street and be able to say ‘that’s so-and-so, he live on so-and-so street.’ You want people who live in town to be comfortable, know they can approach you and say ‘I know who that officer is,’ ‘’ he added.
“When you live in a small town, of 2.5 square miles, that familiarity goes a long ways sometimes.”