When Julia Leeper started a neighborhood watch group 20 years ago in her Sycamore Woods community, she couldn't have imagined that it would grow to be the largest in Glendale, with 250 homes participating.
Now she organizes one of roughly 50 community gatherings set for Tuesday's National Night Out, a movement dedicated to improving neighborhood safety. The Sycamore Woods gathering draws 50 to 100 residents.
"Ideally, we would want to have everybody in the whole city in neighborhood watch," Leeper said.
Months in advance, Leeper sent out emails, gathered donations for a raffle and organized speakers for the event at the Twelve Oaks Lodge retirement community.
Every year the event attracts new residents who join her neighborhood watch group and list of email addresses and phone numbers. The list, she said, comes in handy when she must advise residents of break-ins or lost pets.
But for Leeper, National Night Out not only gives neighbors an opportunity to meet each other, it also helps create a partnership with police.
"They need us and we need them," she said.
Building community partnerships has been critical for police officials as they look to residents to report quality-of-life issues and help spot crimes in areas where they may not be present, Glendale Police Sgt. John Gilkerson said.
Community participation in National Night Out in Glendale has continued to climb from 25 events in 2010 to roughly 50 this year.
Glendale police had hosted a citywide annual event, but that changed in 2008 when police decided residents should take ownership of National Night Out and host their own community-based gatherings.
Residents are encouraged to work with police and talk about crime and ways they could "be a good neighbor," Gilkerson said.
Talking about crime can be difficult for some residents because they are afraid of the repercussions, said Lenore Solis, who has been organizing massive gatherings at Pacific Community Center for five years.
Her biggest challenge in organizing the events hasn't been gathering the roughly 150 pounds of fruit, 300 ice cream bars and 500 hot dogs — it's been getting residents to join or start a neighborhood watch group.
"Is it a success? No," she said.
But Solis said she blames herself for the lack of participation in neighborhood watch because she didn't promote the concept enough, relying on police instead.
Still, she said organizers want residents to understand and know what resources are available for them.
This year, she and other organizers plan to focus on bicycle safety in the wake of a 13-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a school bus in May while riding his bicycle in the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Riverdale Drive.