Few police forces are quite as involved in the community as Egg Harbor Township's. They support kids' sports through the Police Athletic League and help the less fortunate have a good holiday with the PAL's Shop With a Cop toy event. They donate their time to ShopRite's Partners in Caring initiative, which raises funds for local food banks.
On Aug. 7, Egg Harbor Township joined with communities nationwide for the annual National Night Out crime- and drug-prevention event, which drew nearly 3,000 residents to Canale Park for free food, fun and fellowship.
And while Egg Harbor Township's was just one of more than 15,000 across the country, the local force set itself apart, and was named a National Night Out Award recipient by event sponsor the National Association of Town Watch.
Capt. Ray Davis said the success of the event hinged on the work of organizers Sgt. Stephen Slusarski, Patrolman Michael Palmentieri and clerk Dena Danz.
"I saw firsthand the efforts that these three put together and the knowledge they brought from past experience," Davis said. "These three people did this and achieved this status."
Egg Harbor Township received the award in the category of towns with a population of more than 15,000 but not exceeding 49,999. It was one of three towns in New Jersey to receive the award and one of 41 nationally. This is the second award for Egg Harbor Township, the last coming in 2003, Palmentieri said.
National Night Out was established 29 years ago as a way for town watch groups to get together and demonstrate their solidarity in crime fighting. Over time, police departments started sponsoring the event, using it as an opportunity to meet those they serve.
If a community isn't acquainted with its officers, Palmentieri said, the officers can be written off as nuisances who simply write tickets, and events such as National Night Out help remedy that.
"(People who come out) are people who are invested in their community, and that's the people we really want to be in touch with," Palmentieri said. "People who can call us up and say, 'Hey, I'm having this issue or that issue.'"
The Egg Harbor Township Police Department began hosting the township's event about 10 years ago, and it has grown dramatically each successive year, becoming a model for other communities to follow, Palmentieri said.
Unlike those of some communities, activities and refreshments at Egg Harbor Township's National Night Out are free, with the exception of participating nonprofits such as the Hero Campaign, which are allowed to raise funds at the event.
Despite the prohibition of profit, many area businesses still elect to sponsor National Night Out. Summertime staple Little's Dairy Bar has been one of the event's biggest supporters. Owner Laura LaPorte, who raised three daughters in the township, said the event is important because as Egg Harbor Township grows in population, its sense of community is under threat.
"My girls, growing up, knew all the police officers when it was a smaller community," LaPorte said. "Now that it's a larger community, I don't think they get that same opportunity."
The population of Egg Harbor Township rose from about 31,000 to more than 43,000 people from 2000-10, according to census data.
Despite the township's rapid growth, it still feels like the same old Egg Harbor, LaPorte said, largely due to the efforts of its police force.
"Each year, it's gotten better and better. Each year, it's gotten bigger and bigger, and, each year, you see more and more people there," LaPorte said. "I think it's fabulous."
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