KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Law enforcement officers packed into a park in Knoxville Tuesday evening, but they weren't to respond to a call for help. Instead, it was to connect with the community and establish comradery with the people to pledged to serve.
It was part of National Night Out, a national campaign to establish trust between law enforcement agencies and their communities. It is a national event, with departments across the U.S. participating in events with their communities.
Some officers visited around 20 neighborhoods around Knoxville, including Mechanicsville. Many people in that community said they appreciated all the officers who participated, but many also said they feel there is a pressing communication issue between them and the police.
"One thing has not changed — the people in our community feel uncomfortable talking to the police," said Rita McKinnon, who said she has lived in Knoxville for 60 years. "I think that because they come in full force, that makes the people in the community kind of scared."
Officers flocked to Danny Mayfield Park to take steps towards resolving those communication issues. The neighborhood came together for a disco dance party, serving chili for all attendees as part of National Night Out.
"When we get a chance to be there on their good days, it's a blessing, and that's what tonight is all about," said one of the officers who participated in the event.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon also appeared, saying that it was important for community members to feel safe where they live — both from criminals and from the police.
"When you are feeling unsafe, you want to be able to feel comfortable enough to call the police and know that they'll respond, and respond professionally," she said.