PATERSON, NJ- “He’s the best policeman I’ve ever seen,” 12-year old Isai told TAPinto Paterson referring to Police Chief Troy Oswald on Tuesday. And though the 25-year year veteran of the Paterson Police Department wasn’t necessarily fighting crime at the time, his actions were no less meaningful in efforts to keep Paterson safe.

While Oswald has built a career taking criminals off the streets, a role that even in his command position he clearly still relishes, and is actively involved in as part of what Police Director Jerry Speziale said is his style of “leading from the front,” on Tuesday night he was serving hot dogs in the pouring rain.

In what was its 35th year, Paterson once again took part in National Night Out, an annual nationwide occurrence that the original organizers, the National Association of Town Watch, calls “a community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live.”

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Traveling between events, Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale said the night was about “building trust” an opportunity, he continued, that helps the police department “gel with the community.”

“National Night Out gives our officers another chance to interact with residents of all ages and backgrounds in a positive and fun way,” Deputy Chief Lourdes Phelan said earlier this week, giving acknowledgement that the idea of community policing, being visible in the neighborhoods and building meaningful relationships with residents, is not a new concept in Paterson. 

Sequana Tanner, a local preschool teacher, who attended the community cookout at Triangle Village, the first stop of the evening, offered her belief that the event was an important one because law enforcement “needs to know who’s in the community.”

However, she added, meeting her neighbors was just as meaningful. “When you know each other you can keep each other safe.”

Unwilling to let the passing storm get in the way of meeting with community members, Oswald led the caravan of police and local officials, including Mayor Andre Sayegh and a number of his cabinet members, to an event hosted St Joseph’s Health, their second annual. 

“This celebration is a great way to thank our neighbors and residents,” said Assad Akhter who serves as the hospital’s director of community outreach. With the rain stopping and the inflatable rides filling Akhter, who also sits on the Passaic County Board of Freeholders, added that the night highlights the important partnership with public safety but is really “for the kids.”

Also eager to show the emphasis his half of Paterson’s public safety force places on community outreach was Chief Brian McDermott who, along with his entire on duty staff of more than 80 firefighters, spread across the city for “education and relationship building.”

In addition to handing out bracelets, children’s fire helmets, and more than 100 smoke detectors, as well as having volunteers cooking at three locations, McDermott reported that members of the department’s recruitment team were armed with iPads helping residents register for the upcoming state firefighter exam

“We’re out here because our job is to be there for our residents, hopefully to build relationships and put a smile on some people’s faces,” Kyle Hughes, president of FMBA Local 2, the union that represents the city’s firefighters, said. “Well, ice cream will usually go a long way with that,” he added with a laugh. Based on the reactions of residents young and old alike witnessed by this reporter after receiving their ice cream the response Hughes predicted was dead on accurate.

Adding a bit of political star power to the evening’s festivities was U.S. Senator Cory Booker who made 6th Ward Councilman Al Abdelaziz’ movie night his only National Night Out visit. Asked about his decision to accept that invitation over all the others he received from towns statewide Booker shared his analyses that “Paterson is a community led city.” 

“Tonight is about building an even stronger community,” Booker, whom several people in the crowd referred to as a future Presidential candidate, said. “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people,” Booker preached to an approving crowd, offering his belief that Paterson’s elected officials truly care about making an impact on their community.

Among those eager to welcome the national political figure to Paterson was Jennie Delgado, who saw the gathering as an opportunity to counteract what the media often portrays as a divide between police and the community.

“It’s important to show that they are here for the community,” Delgado said standing next to her son Jayden, 8. Echoing the words of other residents TAPinto spoke to Delgado suggested also that it’s as much up to residents to make a difference as it is the elected officials. 

“If people want change they have to come out.”

“This is what one Paterson is all about,” Sayegh said between taking pictures and engaging with residents outside of School 25. “We are united in bringing our city back, and we are going to keep building on this momentum.”

Running through a partial list of positive and family friendly events happening simultaneously across the city, while giving a final nod to the significance Booker’s attendance, Sayegh concluded in his traditional upbeat tone, “Paterson is back on the map.”