Grassroots Effort Designed to Build Relationships

For the past two years, Safe Summer Nights has brought police officers and residents together in city parks to share a picnic in an effort to forge new, more positive relationships, The program, which began with volunteer support and funding from local business, started in St. Paul and in beginning expansion into Minneapolis.

“There is no more important topic facing law enforcement than public trust and community engagement, and that’s what this program is all about.” said St. Paul Assistant Police Chief Todd Axtell.

With tensions between police and communities of color reaching a boiling point in many neighborhoods, people are looking for ways to strengthen connections between officers and the people they serve. Safe Summer Nights is one solution.

The initiative began in 2014 when Safe Summer Nights partnered with the Saint Paul Police Department and the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department to host 14 events in Saint Paul that brought neighborhood families and police officers together to enjoy a picnic.

Each Safe Summer Nights starts with local police officers going door-to-door in the neighborhood to personally invite residents to join them for a free picnic. In addiction to free meals, neighbors also get to meet K-9s, the mounted patrol and other specialty units of the Police Department. Bouncy houses, pick-up basketball and arts projects are just a few of the activities that the police have hosted for kids who attend the picnics.

The program has been received enthusiastically by both police and neighborhoods. In 2015, Safe Summer Nights expanded to 22 events – 14 in Saint Paul and 8 in surrounding communities, In 2014, 75 volunteers served more that 9,000 meals. The next year that number soared to nearly 30,000.

Safe Summer Night helps bridge the gap between police and the people they serve. “Our community is torn apart by mistrust and fear. Many kids in our tougher neighborhoods fear the police and the police don’t know the kids. This program lets them connect on a different level and get to know each other. They are truly building relationships that I think will have a positive, lasting impact on our community.” said Tom Campion, the St. Paul resident and volunteer who launched the project and has created a nonprofit to support it.