SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Hundreds of residents came out to the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Santa Maria on Tuesday night to take part in National Night Out. The annual event is held on the first Tuesday each August across the United States. More than 16,000 communities held similar events, including in Lompoc and Paso Robles.
Created in 1984, National Night Out is described by organizers as a community-building campaign the promotes positive partnerships between residents and law enforcement agencies. It's also a way for people from different segments of the population to join together and build community camaraderie.
"This is about crime prevention," said Sgt. Russell Mengel, Santa Maria Police Department. "We want to talk to the community and we want to hear what the concerns are in the community. Tonight is the night for people to come out and talk with us, let us know where there are problems, and we'll work with members of the community to resolve some of the issues."
In Santa Maria, the two-hour event included various law enforcement agencies, such as the Santa Maria Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Santa Maria City Rangers, Guadalupe Police Department, and Allan Hancock College Police Department.
"Our special weapons team is here, along with our community services unit, that's our school resources officers and coordinators, and we have our canine unit down here and dispatch," said Mengel.
Community members were able to interact with officers and personnel in a fun, friendly environment. In addition, various vendors were on hand, many of which represented important community organizations and programs.
The family-oriented event also included a large number of free games and activities for kids, plus refreshments for residents of all ages.
While National Night Out has been held for 32 years, this year's event had added importance in light of recent controversial events involving law enforcement.
Nationally, police have come under intense scrutiny following a number of high-profile shootings. Just two weeks ago in Santa Maria, a man was fatally shot on Broadway following an intense standoff that played out in front of a large group of bystanders.
"The issues that are occurring nationwide are not reflective of what is occurring in Santa Maria," said Mengel. "We have a great relationship with this community , and a very open relationship with this community, and it's because we've been doing things like this for years."
National Night Out was held through a partnership with the Santa Maria Police Department, the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department and PLAY Inc. (People for Leisure AND Youth Inc.).