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TACOP leads National Night Out procession through Towson

The message is, "Crime is not welcome in Towson."

It was delivered during National Night Out Tuesday evening when a police-escorted motorcade of 30 or so vehicles manned by Towson Area Citizens On Patrol members and a Redbone Coonhound named Fred made their way through 25 Towson neighborhoods with lights flashing, sirens blaring, horns honking … and waves to sometimes puzzled spectators.

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"It's a night for the COP members to really shine," Towson Precinct 6 commander Capt. Jay Landsman told the 75 people in attendance, "and to remind people who are not members of COP to get on board. It sends a message to those coming to Towson with less than honorable intentions that this is a community that cares and is watching."

If the huge banner on the Providence Volunteer Fire Co. fire engine proclaiming the message didn't drive home the point, the loud announcement emitted by the vintage ambulance in the procession did.

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TACOP volunteers patrol the streets of their neighborhoods with instructions to call 911 if they encounter anything suspicious.

"It' a good program," said Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. "Residents sometimes are better able to notice something that doesn't fit."

Indeed, at the rally Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson expressed gratitude for the extra eyes and ears that the volunteers provide.

"We could not do without you," he told them.

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The nonprofit National Association of Town Watch introduced National Night Out in 1984 to prompt involvement in crime-prevention activities, police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie, according to its website.

Its 16,124 communities celebrate National Night Out — which always takes place the first Tuesday in August — in various ways.

The Towson Precinct celebrates the date with the motorcade, hosted by TACOP and Baltimore County Police, and which departs after a brief rally, from the eastern reaches of the Towson Place shopping center parking lot off Putty Hill Avenue.

The COP members brought nonperishable food items and travel-size toiletries to the rally to be donated to the Assistance Center of Towson Churches, which serves needy area families.

'Well-coordinated circus act'

It is not an easy task paving the way for a 30-vehicle motorcade to pass smoothly through 58 intersections in downtown Towson and its surrounding neighborhoods without stopping for red lights, especially when wide major thoroughfares are involved, or in the case of the fire engines and trucks, narrow neighborhood streets with a car or two parked illegally on them.

But police did it.

"It's all planned out," said Officer Kristy Fuka, community liaison for the Towson's precinct's Community Outreach Unit, which has led the motorcade for nearly 14 years.

It  takes "good communication on the radio" with the officers responsible for clearing the intersections and with Sgt. Stephen Fink, who brings up the rear of the procession.

"We all know where everybody is," Fuka said. "If traffic is backed up ahead, they'll tell me to slow down or stop. By the time we get to the intersection, it's cleared."

Driving behind Fuka and observing the operation was "like watching  a well-coordinated circus act," said Pat France, vice president of TACOP.

"It's usually a fun night for people who ride in the motorcade," even though the message is serious, Landsman said.

The TACOP flyer calls it "The most fun event of the year."

Though publicity for National Night Out includes an invitation to residents to participate by turning on their lights, walking their neighborhood streets and cheering as the motorcade passes by, many people were surprised by all the noise and, flashing red and blue lights.

"I love to see the expression on people's faces," France said.

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