LIVINGSTON, NJ — Despite a late-afternoon thunderstorm that caused the National Guard Helicopter to cancel its landing at the Memorial Oval for Livingston’s 10th annual National Night Out (NNO) last week, the event still achieved its goal of bringing together members of the community and the Livingston Police Department (LPD)—and even raised money for a local charity through the addition of a hot air balloon ride that went on without a hitch.

The event, held in communities across the country, brings residents and emergency personnel from many law enforcement and public safety entities together on a summer afternoon for a community celebration aimed at promoting police-community partnerships to help make Livingston neighborhoods safer.

“A lot of work and collaboration among departments goes into planning NNO in order to make it a successful event every year,” said Officer Kevin Mullaney of Livingston’s Community Policing Unit (CPU). “The police department works in conjunction with the Department of Public Works and the Livingston Fire Department to set up the event. Many of our guests from other law enforcement agencies, businesses in town, and community programming clubs also put a lot of effort into planning a successful night.

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“To have the weather end a portion of the night early was disappointing, especially after all of that work. Nevertheless, many people did return after the rain and NNO experienced a second wind. The people in attendance made it work: the fire department kept grilling hot dogs, the DJ kept playing music, the face painter kept painting and the rides kept running.”

Mullaney said the highlight of the evening was the hot air balloon ride, which was not only a new addition to the event this year, but one that was not interrupted by the thunderstorm and also raised funds for Cycle for Survival in the name of the Knock Cancer Out of the Park (KCOP) Campaign to honor Livingston teen Jake Kestler.

To make things even more interesting, the evening weather allowed for the balloon to set up shop more prominently than planned—in the center of the action right by the gazebo—because the tables that had been there were vacated due to the rain. Had the weather been nicer, Mullaney said it would have been impossible for the hot air balloon to service as many people as it did.

“We have always ended the event with something special—a movie under the stars, a concert, or last year's karaoke party,” said fellow CPU Officer Joy Klapal. “As this was our 10th anniversary, we wanted to have something that would be extraordinary. As far as I know, there has never been a hot air balloon in Livingston before.

“Team Jake/KCOP was such an inspirational movement by Livingston Little League, that it was very easy to decide on that to receive the funds from the balloon."

According to Mullaney, many return to this event each year because it gives residents an opportunity to see what Livingston has to offer, as the Oval is lined with booths set up by new businesses hoping to introduce themselves as well as veteran businesses looking to support the community.

“I’ve heard many attendees comment that they were unaware that certain businesses or services were available in town,” said Mullaney. “NNO is very much a showcase of Livingston and people can see what’s new or steadily available in town.”

Others return every year because it gives them the opportunity to get to know the LPD in “a more thorough and more laid-back way” while also learning about the various services that the police department offers by talking to members of the team and holding their equipment, he added. The event also promotes various crime-prevention programs, including neighborhood watch groups; residential and business security surveys; crime-prevention tips; and more.

“People can also share a hot dog and friendly conversation with officers,” said Mullaney. “NNO is intended to make [local] officers more approachable and for the community to realize that officers are people just like them.”

In addition to the physical congregation of the department and the community at the Oval, NNO also accomplishes its goal of bringing the community together because of the many other entities in the community that significantly contribute to the event.

This year, every pizzeria in town donated pizza; businesses like Saint Barnabas and Regal Bank made significant donations toward entertainment; others, such as Target, Love Letters, Karig’s Livingston Hardware, Bee Bee Designs and more, donated items to be raffled off; members of the volunteer fire department manned the grills while also showering kids with water from their truck; the Lions Club of Livingston held a blood drive; the Arts Council of Livingston hosted a poster contest; and more.

“What always amazes me is that when we go out to solicit sponsors and participation, every business will simply ask what we need and then deliver without question,” said Mullaney. “It’s really a good feeling to feel so supported by the community.”

In addition to an opening ceremony during which the department recognized the West Essex Tribune as this year’s Crime Prevention Community Member of the Year, other event highlights included food and drinks, K9 Units, rides, games, a DJ, face painting, balloon sculptures and an open photo booth featuring McGruff the Crime Dog. 

Klapal added that there was something for all ages, giving families the opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of their neighbors.

“This is the largest event that the police department holds and I believe that it does accomplish the goal of bringing the police and community together,” said Klapal. “Any time that officers can interact with residents in a positive setting, it improves the relationship.”

Klapal also noted that in an effort to expand on the goals of NNO and create a plan to make the community a safer and more desirable place to live, the LPD will be participating in Project 365 through the National Association of Town Watch this year. The LPD hopes this will help the department expand the number of Neighborhood Watch groups within the township by inspiring the active participation of residents in cooperation with law enforcement to reduce crime in the community. 

On behalf of the entire department, Klapal and Mullaney extended their gratitude to all sponsors and attendees of this year’s event, which they said would not have been possible without everyone’s commitment and dedication.

“[We] are very appreciative of how supported we are by the Livingston community,” said Mullaney. “NNO is intended to be a showcase of mutual support between the police department and the community. We feel that support and we are grateful for it.

“While we were disappointed about the weather this year, that did not deter us. We are committed to making next year’s NNO bigger and better than ever. We hope to see everyone next year.”

Livingston’s event was also supported by Livingston PBA #263, Riverside Oral Surgery, Argyle Marketplace, Livingston Bagel, Starbucks, Livingston Collision, Step It Up Events, Kiwanis Club of Livingston, ShopRite, Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman, Livingston Business Improvement District, Livingston Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Learning Center, Stop & Shop, Livingston Mall, Livingston Mart, Livingston Public Schools and many volunteers.

For more information on Neighborhood Watch groups in Livingston, call the Livingston CPU at (973) 992-3000 ext. 3600 or visit the programs page at http://livingstonnj.org/Police.

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