Meet-your-neighbor events set for Aug. 5
By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel
WATSONVILLE >> At first glance, the police showing up at a neighborhood block party might be cause for alarm.
However, the welcome mat will be out for law enforcement at a series of such community-based events around the county and country alike Tuesday. Annual National Night Out events are designed to organize neighbors to fight back against crime and provide a more intimate connection with their local law enforcement agencies.
National Night Out, “America’s Night Out Against Crime,” first began in 1984 and typically is held on the first Tuesday of August. Watsonville began to organize such events 16 years ago, starting with only one celebration. This year, the official count is 20 events, said Christian Miranda, Watsonville’s city Neighborhood Services division manager.
Watsonville Lt. Jorge Zamora said police go out to the events and listen to what residents have to say about area crime issues ranging from parking concerns to gang violence, then bring them back to the department. Officers educate the community on some of the interactive programs the department provides, such as resident ride-alongs and the school resource officer program.
“I think it really connects all people in their neighborhood,” Zamora said of National Night Out events. “We work in such a fast pace world that people don’t even really know their neighbors and this allows them time to do that.”
This year, the Maple Street neighborhood party will receive a boost from local business sponsorships, Miranda said, due to a rise in criminal complaints in that area.
“(The groups) make a point to make sure they actually have the event … and just try to brainstorm ways to handle problems going on,” Miranda said. “It’s a sign that Watsonville basically wants to work together. They want a safe community.”
On the other end of the National Night Out spectrum, the Capitola Police Department will consolidate its event into one central site, the Jade Street Park. Police, fire and medical trucks will be on site, plus hamburgers and hotdogs, K-9 demonstrations and a climbing wall, a bounce house and crafts for kids.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office also has helped to coordinate with community groups in the unincorporated county areas for nine separate events this year. Sgt. Kelly Kent said a positive outcome to the annual gatherings is some neighborhoods decide to band together to form Neighborhood Watch groups after meeting their neighbors.
“It’s a good for people to get out there and just experience what’s going on in their communities,” Kent said. “We’re out in all of them. It’s a chance for us to talk to them and them to us. We’re there in an effort to strengthen our communities against crime.”
The city of Santa Cruz decided several years ago to push its celebration back to the fall, dubbing their event the Annual Santa Cruz Neighbors’ Night Out. The party coincides with students’ return to school in the fall and will take place from noon to 8 p.m. on Sept. 28.