Interaction between members of the public and law enforcement officials is often limited to traffic citations and the occasional stolen bicycle report.
But on Tuesday they mixed and mingled at dozens of spots across Glendale and Burbank as part of National Night Out, a grass-roots movement aimed at improving neighborhood safety.
“I think it is cool because it is really developed by the community,” said Glendale Police Officer Renae Kerner as she handed out stickers to children at Pacific Park. “It is their night. It is something they put together, and we are supporting them.”
She and her colleagues revel in the opportunity to let down their guard a bit and interact with local residents in a more social context, Kerner said.
“In my opinion, the best crime prevention you can have is building a good relationship with the community,” Kerner said.
National Night Out launched in 1983 as a series of block parties in an effort to empower residents within their own communities. The idea was for residents to take back public spaces that were being overrun by crime.
It has since expanded to more than 15,000 communities and 37 million participants across all 50 states. Events include the original block party, as well as parades, exhibits, flashlight walks and cookouts.
In Glendale and Burbank alone, there were four dozen events at parks and on street corners.
“It is an opportunity for the community to interact with the police because our goal is to form neighborhood watches,” said Lenore Solis, a community volunteer who helps stage the event at Pacific Park each year. “Who better than the community to watch out for each other?”
The events are effective, volunteers said.
“I’ve been here for eight years, and the crime in the area has decreased drastically because of special events like these,” said Onnig Bulanikian, who oversees Pacific Park for the city’s Community Services and Parks Department.
In addition to allowing residents to meet and interact with law enforcement in a positive environment, it also gives agencies an opportunity to highlight their resources and work, said Erin Barrows, a recreation supervisor with the city of Burbank.
“The Police Department is actually here to help people, and everybody doesn’t always necessarily see it that way,” Barrows said. “It is to put them in a positive light and shows the different sections within the Police Department.”
Burbank Mayor Jess Talamantes said he enjoys seeing how receptive the public is to their public safety officials.
“The more and better we know each other, the better communication there is going to be,” Talamantes said. “It is going to be a win-win. The residents will be comfortable with their police officers, the police officers will be comfortable with the residents. It is what Burbank is all about.”