by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Police Department decided to dispense with the communitywide party at Lions Park in 2015 to make an effort to beef up attendance at neighborhood parties.
The renewed focus of connecting neighborhoods and helping them put a face with crime-fighting efforts in the city seems to be working.
This year there were 12 new registered parties, and there were a total of 65, up from 57 last year. There were 50 in 2017.
More than this, the number of neighborhood formal watch groups is also growing.
Linda Canton, a crime prevention specialist for the Elk River department, said she is very happy to see the increase in numbers and the engagement of neighborhoods.
“I feel that we are making a positive connection with the residents and it is showing in our Night to Unite numbers as well as our Neighborhood Watch numbers,” she said. “They definitely coincide with each other.”
There are currently 34 Neighborhood Watch groups. When Canton started four years ago there were six documented neighborhood watch groups.
This year’s events featured a wide range of activities, including the usual pool parties, games, and inflatable slides and bounce houses. Some parties were low-key affairs where residents barbecued or made root beer floats.
One lucky neighborhood won a drawing to have the Police Department’s MRAP make an appearance.
The officers on the force see a big value to Night to Unite.
“I believe that Night to Unite helps foster better relationships within the community as a whole,” Officer Brandon Martin said. “It allows neighbors to meet, maybe for the first time, and discuss issues that they otherwise may not have.”
He said it’s also a chance for children to make new friends, and families to feel more at home in this city.
“It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this opportunity for in-person interaction,” Martin added.
Officer Martin grew up not far from Elk River in the northern portion of Ramsey. As a child, he never knew that Night to Unite existed and never had the opportunity to attend one of the gatherings.
It was not until he was in a college internship program with St. Louis Park Police Department that he learned about Night to Unite, and what it had to offer a community.
“When I started at the Elk River Police Department in August 2017, I was pleased to find that Night to Unite was an important event to the department and officers alike,” he said.
From a law enforcement perspective, he says what he has found is Night to Unite helps to break down barriers and change perceptions.
“It allows everyone, officers and citizens, to meet as people who want the best for this community,” Martin said. “I appreciated the time to speak with groups of neighbors who had questions about new laws, city projects, and issues within their area. What I appreciated even more was feeling welcome.”
In true community fashion, the parties took up a collection for Community Aid Elk River, the Elk River area’s food shelf. Numbers of pounds and the total cash donations are still being tabulated.