Jake Magee

WATCH: National Night Out one part of building trust

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Jake Magee
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

JANESVILLEThousands of people showed up at the Janesville Police Department on Tuesday evening to eat grilled food, pet police dogs and watch volunteers get shot with a stun gun.

But police realize that a single annual community outreach isn't enough.

Each year, law enforcement agencies nationwide host National Night Out to foster relationships between officers and the communities they serve. It's an important tool to keep the peace, but it isn't sufficient on its own, Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said.

National Night Out reaches those who already support police, not those who don't trust officers. It also doesn't allow for much one-on-one interaction between officers and residents, Moore said.

That's why Janesville police reach out year, including organize small neighborhood meetings. Police visit six-block areas in neighborhoods such as the Fourth Ward to interact in a more intimate setting with kids, teenagers and young adults who might not trust cops, Moore said.

Recently, a group of young teenagers attacked some Janesville officers. They clearly had no respect for authority, Moore said.

Three days later, those same kids were at one of the neighborhood meetings, playing games and eating food with officers, he said.

"It's a step in the right direction to go from a very confrontational incident to one of cooperation and collaboration," Moore said.

Last year's National Night Out occurred during a spate of shootings involving police and protests against police. That kind of attitude largely doesn't exist in Janesville, Moore said.

"In Janesville, it's quite the opposite," he said.

Local officers have received an outpouring of support since last year's National Night Out. During the national manhunt for fugitive Joseph Jakubowski in April, residents took the time to cook meals and write letters to officers in a show of solidarity, Moore said.

"We would just get boxes of them from classes, thanking us," he said.

Around Memorial Day, a man was fatally shot in the Fourth Ward. It was the first homicide in Janesville in about three years.

As soon as the suspect was arrested, officers knocked on doors in the neighborhood, trying to explain what happened and assure neighbors they were safe and had no reason to fear. They do the same when homes are raided or searched so residents aren't wondering if they're safe.

"I know that builds trust," Moore said.

Residents who attended Tuesday's National Night Out said they thought police were doing a good job.

Pat Johnson's 3-year-old son Isaac is battling cancer. Officers honored Isaac and his family during a brief presentation, giving Isaac a banner officers had signed. Isaac responded with a hearty thumbs up.

Officers also visited with Isaac earlier and gave him some police-related toys, such as a cop car. Such gestures are evidence of the strong relationship officers try to forge with residents, Johnson said.

"I think it's fantastic," he said.

Katie Springer attended National Night Out for the first time Tuesday. She went with her family, including her police-loving son Ford, 5, who donned a police cap.

Since Jakubowski's capture, residents feel safer and believe that the lines of communication are open, she said. People feel confident that police have residents' best interests at heart, she said.

"The community and police's relationship has strengthened immensely," Springer said.

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