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In recognition of National Night Out, the yearly event which features residents nationwide strolling around their neighborhood sounding the call for an end to violence and encouraging more interpersonal communication, the city of Palmdale will host a public safety event tonight from 5 to 8 p.m. at the DryTown Water Park, 38350 E. Ave. S. The city of Lancaster conducted its own Public Safety Fair and Emergency Expo on Thursday night at American Heroes Park.

Palmdale’s event is in conjunction with “Sundown at DryTown,” where the city’s public safety staff will answer questions, while the Los Angeles County Sheriff and Fire departments will have vehicles on display as well as representatives to share information and to speak with residents. The city hosted a similar event on July 25 at Poncitlan Square and officials believe tonight’s activities will be equally rewarding and informative.

“We are inviting the community to stop by and take advantage of the last ‘Sundown at DryTown” event of the summer and also meet our crime prevention staff and ask questions about what we have to offer,” said Kelly Long, Palmdale community safety supervisor. “Our Community Watch programs offer so much more than safety training. They are a launching pad for creating and developing a sense of community among your neighbors.”

Thursday night, the sheriff’s and fire departments, as well as the Department of Children and Family Services, the CHP, Antelope Valley Partners for Health and the Department of Animal Care and Control gathered in Lancaster to promote ways in which the public, government and private entities can work together to help protect themselves and their families in the face of property crimes, disasters and personal injury.

The general purpose of National Night Out is to engage the community in taking a stand against crime. Citizens are educated on safe practices to promote awareness and general public safety. A number of booths were sponsored offering both information and displays regarding neighborhood watch, business watch, fingerprinting, fire safety, pool safety and many other issues where forethought and preventative measures can avoid tragedy.

It is also an opportunity for public service agencies to put into effect various crime awareness programs which are designed to generate participation in local anti-crime efforts. Officials here attest that such events can strengthen neighborhood spirit and law enforcement-community relationships, thereby sending a message to potential criminals that neighborhoods are increasingly organized and are fighting crime.

“Meetings and gatherings provide wonderful opportunities to learn about what is going in your city,” Long continued, “and about programs and resources available as well as the valuable information you share with us which, in turn, helps us shape current and future programs and public safety actions to meet the needs of our residents.”

The annual event, traditionally conducted during the first week of August, was the brainchild of the National Association of Town Watch (NATW). In 1984, it was estimated that 2.5 million Americans took part in events across 400 communities in 23 states. Today every state participates, including 37 million people in 15,000 communities, U.S. territories, some Canadian cities and even at military bases abroad.

NATW wanted to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie and, importantly, to send a message to criminals, letting them know that neighborhoods are fighting back. That’s when America first met McGruff the Crime Dog whose witty sayings and suggestions encouraged more citizen involvement in looking out for their block, their neighbors and nearby children and seniors.

The traditional “lights on” campaign and symbolic front-porch vigils turned into celebrations across America with various events and activities, including, but not limited to, block parties, cookouts, parades, visits from emergency personnel, rallies and marches, exhibits, youth events, safety demonstrations and seminars in a valiant effort to heighten awareness and enhance community relations.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for communities nationwide to promote police-community partnerships, crime prevention and neighborhood camaraderie,” said Matt Peskin, executive director of the NATW. “While one night is certainly not the answer to crime, drugs and violence, National Night Out represents the kind of spirit, energy and determination to help make neighborhoods a safer place year-round. The night celebrates safety and crime prevention successes and works to expand and strengthen programs for the next 364 days.”

The first events were fairly simple. In most communities the usually warm summer evening amounted largely to lighted vigils with some basic information being delivered to the community. The focus today remains on bringing neighbors together, but with the advent of the digital- and cyber-age issues like bullying protection, cyber bullying (or “Don’t Write It. Don’t Forward It”), identity theft, Internet safety for children (“Be Your Kid’s Safety Net”), back-to-school tips and even intellectual property theft have become discussion points.

Organizers today provide National Night Out promotional materials as well as ideals, tips and guidelines on how to organize and spread the word about participation. Though it is much more than a summer block party, food has become an integral part of the event. Light snacks and refreshment (watermelon, lemonade, ice cream cones, pizza, hot dogs, burgers, etc.) have become the norm for the increasingly popular evening. Sometimes a “mixer” can facilitate conversations and lead to new friendships. The community is always first and foremost, and that’s why food banks, neighborhood cleanups, flower and tree planting, and sowing/harvesting vegetable gardens have become part of the yearly activities.

Paving the Way Foundation of Lancaster participated in the Thursday-night event, one of the many local social organizations trying to make a difference in their community. “We do reentry for people on probation and parole,” said Antelina Feldstein, a case worker with the organization. “We have an opportunity to help reintroduce people back into the community via education, employment services, certification classes, housing assistance and the like. We also partner with Antelope Valley College to help provide a second chance for people.”

One reason why organizations like Paving the Way Foundation have become successful is because of the 30-year crime-awareness campaign launched by the National Citizen’s Crime Prevention Campaign. Since its inception in the mid-1980s, the campaign has garnered roughly $1.4 billion in donated media support. Thanks to McGruff and his nephew Scruff, the citizen proactive campaign has addressed many of the aforementioned plagues on society not only in English but in Spanish-language media. Today, McGruff and friends have changed their message from urging personal, family and home security methods, to broader based crime prevention measures.

Antelope Valley CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) was on hand Thursday night at American Heroes Park. The organization is comprised of community-based volunteers who assist in disaster preparedness training, helping residents safely care for their neighbors in the event of an emergency. Volunteers are trained in basic care, stabilization and information, in the event of a major incident or a large-scale disaster, until emergency responders can arrive on the scene.

“National Night Out is a wonderful event and we’re proud to participate in it,” said Marla Stark, logistics coordinator with Antelope Valley CERT. With the chance of dust or hale storms, excessive heat waves, and even snow flurries, the Antelope Valley can be cut off from immediate help within the greater Los Angeles Basin, and volunteer organizations like CERT can prove to be a lifesaver.

“We do earthquake preparedness demonstrations, as well as showing people how (and when) to properly shut off their water and gas,” Stark said. “We want to see if people can care for themselves and their neighbors in case of an emergency. That’s why we involve both parents and children. Knowing what to in an emergency can help save lives.”

National Night Out can be a fun experience for youngsters. Some neighborhoods have a bicycle parade, play board games, have coloring contests, put on skits or even make a mural or banner about their little corner of the community. The oldest and youngest residents are sometimes feted . . . there’s always something to bring people together. For instance, the city of Berkeley on Tuesday completed a festive and positive night in its annual fight against crime, hosting safety and disaster preparedness seminars with members of the police and fire departments and city staff. They had barbecues, pot lucks, ice cream socials, etc., to encourage more citizen interaction. Milpitas, not far from San Jose in Santa Clara County, hosted its event on Thursday night with a display of outdoor lights and front-porch vigils and included cookouts, speeches and visits from police and fire department personnel.

There is no admission fee tonight at DryTown where the L.A. County Sheriff’s canine unit will participate. “Deputy Gunner” is said to be a very friendly black labrador retriever—just the right temperament to entice children to listen to valuable advice that just may one day save a life.

For more information about Palmdale’s National Night Out, call (661) 267-5181.