Gang violence gives new importance to 'National Night Out'

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BRENTWOOD -

Police precincts across Long Island participated in "National Night Out" events Tuesday in an effort to bolster their ties with the communities they serve.

Thousands of Long Islanders kicked off the annual festivities with robot demonstrations, face painting and tasty treats. The event started 33 years ago as a way to bring communities and police together to take a stand against crime.

This year, Long Island's battle against deadly gang violence made the day more significant than ever.

"It's definitely frightening," says Jackie Hutchinson, of Brentwood. "You send your kids off to learn, and you don't know what they're being exposed to."

Since January 2016, police have linked 17 slayings to the MS-13 gang in Suffolk County alone. That includes the quadruple homicide in a Central Islip park in April and the brutal slayings of two teenage girls in Brentwood last September.

National Night Out organizer Felicia Moss says the event will help fight crime by increasing dialogue between law enforcement and the community.

"Sometimes you don't feel comfortable speaking to the police officer if you don't know them," she says. "So this is a way to bridge that gap."

Police in Nassau and Suffolk counties say the fun, relaxed setting of National Night Out gives residents a chance to get to know those who protect and serve them.

"It's kind of showing that we're kinder and gentler," says acting Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. "We're not what you see on TV."

Residents in both counties say they plan to work on building good relations between police and the community throughout the year.

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