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National Night Out across New Castle County aim to strengthen police and community relationships

Police and communities gather once a year on the first Tuesday in August for National Night Out.

New Castle County’s Hero Help Unit was one part of law enforcement at the Bellevue Community Center, where the local police and residents gathered together for a night of games and ice cream, while mending trust and relationships.

County Executive Matt Meyer said there is a disconnect in the community between police and the kind of public safety that communities want and need, but the annual event is a way to reach out in a positive way.

“It's 2022 and police need to engage with communities in new ways," Meyer said. "I think that very often public safety and police conduct comes to light when there's a horrific incident, as it should. But it's equally important that people come out and see what's going on in their neighborhood, and get to know the police officer in their neighborhood.”

One particular incident in the New Castle County Police Department has recently contributed to that disconnect. A former police corporal was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading guilty to repeatedly pulling a 16-year-old girl's hair and dragging her by the handcuffs while she's on her stomach. The incident happened last summer, and the officer, Michael Carnevale, will have his probation suspended upon completion of anger management courses, community service and the surrender of his police training certificate.

Meyer adds they try to focus on hosting in neighborhoods that are showing high levels of violence and the greatest disconnect with police.

Now in its sixth year of service, Senior Lieutenant Allen Herring calls the Hero Help Unit a perfect example of how police perception towards substance abuse and mental illness has been changing.

“It's for everybody in the community," Herring said. "I think them seeing the different side of an officer, reaching out to give help and saying ‘hey, I don't want to be here dealing with your situation and seeing you on your worst day either, let's see what we can do to prevent that from happening again.”

And it wasn’t just law enforcement connecting with residents, but 911 services. Kristen Vari, tele-communicator and training officer for New Castle County, wants to reassure those in crisis that there is no delay in help.

“When you call 911 and you're being asked questions, we're just trying to make sure that we get all the correct information according to the protocols we are required to adhere to," Vari said. "And then we provide life saving instructions over the phones to minimize any sort of injury or illness that the patient is experiencing”

Since the Hero Help program began, Herring adds the unit helps people find treatment rather than relying on 911 calls for help, and ending up in the ER unnecessarily.

County Police Corporal Grigori Lopez-Garcia says the people interested in National Night Out will be the ones to take positive experiences back to their communities, and notes the department wants to seize every chance it can to talk one-on-one with those they serve.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.