Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres has pulled the plug on the National Night Out — an anti-crime event that brings out neighbors and police officers to neighborhoods to forge better connection between law enforcement and neighborhood residents — in his battle with the city council over the tax levy surprising council members on Tuesday night.
Council members described the mayor’s move as “shortsighted” arguing the savings the Torres administration will build by canceling National Night Out will likely cost much more in the long run.
Torres administration did not provide information on how much the city will save by cancelling the event which was scheduled for August 2nd, 2016.
“The overall cost may end up being greater,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He said residents may organize events without police oversight and something may occur.
“You’re taking away somethings that benefit the community. Your’ pouring gas on the fire,” said Allen Boyer, pastor at the Bethel AME Church on Auburn Street. As many as 40 block events are scheduled throughout the city – many of them in volatile crime-prone neighborhoods – to build better relations between neighborhood residents and police as well as connect neighbors together.
“It’s the one time folks who may not know who their neighbor come outside and meet their neighbors for the first time,” said Morris.
The mayor, council members, police officers, visit each of the locations on the second Tuesday of August to foster better ties between neighbors and police to strengthen communities against crime.
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, said she was unaware the event had been cancelled. She and other council members wondered why community stakeholders were not informed about the cancellation.
Torres cancelled the event on Thursday.
Marcia Julian of the city’s Multi-Cultural & Community Affairs said she intends on calling various organizers to tell them the event has been cancelled.
Each block has its unique event with donated hot dogs and sodas from police. The police union contributes more than $3,000 towards the event, said officials.
“Our young men and women get to see people that look like them in uniform and aspire to join those careers themselves. They see police officers in a different light,” said Morris. He said police officers also get to meet the parents of those children so when a youngster is on the verge of getting in trouble the officer is more likely to take the child to his parent rather than for processing in downtown.
“We should look to continue National Night Out,” said council president William McKoy. “The value and return to the city far outweighs any contribution by the mayor. We don’t want to be shortsighted in this endeavor.”
The community groups are likely to continue their block events even without the city’s support indicated council members.
Torres has also cancelled the movies in the park, the Great Falls Festival, the Silk City 5K Run, and the annual Christmas event. His plan to close recreation programs two-week early has been met with protests at City Hall.
The mayor’s response comes after the council twice rejected his preliminary tax levy. Council members argued the mayor was attempting to tax homeowners, who are overburdened, yet again.
Julian said the city has been continuously doing National Night Out for the past 15 years.
Torres did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday morning.