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Neighborhood Cops Serve up Burgers, Smiles at National Night Out

PARK SLOPE  — Cops took a bite out of crime Tuesday night by serving up free food — and smiles — to neighborhood residents.

Police from the 78th Precinct and 72nd Precinct rolled out bounce houses, free hot dog carts and live music for National Night Out, an annual crime prevention event celebrated by law enforcement nationwide.

The neighborhood parties gave cops and residents a rare chance to mingle in a relaxed setting, and police say the events help them build important ties to the community.

"Being in law enforcement almost 20 years, I've realized law enforcement can't do their job without the community," said Captain Michael Ameri, the commanding officer of the 78th Precinct, which polices Park Slope, Prospect Park and Gowanus.

Major crime is relatively low in the 78th Precinct, and has dropped by 34 percent in the last decade, according to NYPD statistics. Those improvements wouldn't have happened without open communication between cops and residents, Ameri said.

His officers marked National Night Out by setting up free snow cone machine and serving free pasta and other treats to residents who lined up outside J.J. Byrne Playground on Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth Street on Tuesday night.

The 72nd Precinct, which covers Windsor Terrace, Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park, held its National Night Out party at Greenwood Playground on East Fifth Street near Fort Hamilton Parkway. The precinct has more major crime than its Park Slope neighbor, but crime has plummeted over the last decade — by 37 percent, according to NYPD numbers.

At one tent, moms brought their kids to be fingerprinted by the precinct's community affairs officers. A teary Rodman Lora, 2, completed the task with the help of Officer Leif Andreassen, who gently placed the toddler's fingers on an ink pad then pressed them onto a white card.  "It's very important, especially nowadays, if he's lost or kidnapped, at least you have something to give the police," said mom Doris Rivera.

At the beginning of the night, a 12-year-old boy lingered outside the gate because he was afraid to go to an event with so many cops, said 72nd Precinct Community Council president Donna Maxil. "He said to his friend, 'I'm not going in there. There's cops, they've got bats, they don't like me,'" Maxil said.

But she took the boy by the hand and led him inside, where she introduced him to the precinct's commanding officer, Capt. James Grant. "That's what this night is all about," Maxil said. "It's about the community, mostly our children, communicating with our officers."

Grant said the boy was "a little hesitant," but seemed to relax and enjoy himself at National Night Out. "That's part of our job as a civil servant, to change people's perspectives," Grant said as a singer launched into "We're Coming to America."