By Stacey Hanks–
Despite smoky skies from Northern California wildfires and temperatures in the 90s, Citrus Heights neighborhood groups along with police officers and city officials came out Tuesday evening to celebrate National Night Out.
Held every year on the first Tuesday of August, the nationwide event is designed to help bring members of the community and their local law enforcement agencies together to help foster better relationships and prevent crime.
While some neighborhoods have been organizing National Night Out gatherings for years, of the 18 events Citrus Heights police expected to be held that evening, on Sperry Drive the occasion was being celebrated for the first time in recent memory.
Pop-up shade tents decorated with favorite sports teams were pitched on the front lawn, offering a place out of the sun for visitors as they feasted next to tables laden with summer potluck fare. Cooks kept the smoking grills hard at work feeding neighbors and officers alike as they stopped by.
“This is only the second time this has happened here that I remember, and it was years ago,” said Sally Easter, a resident for 42 years, as she enjoyed the summer evening while laughing and visiting with her neighbors. “This is so nice.”
Children of all ages gathered around as K-9 Officer Kyle Shoberg and his canine partner “Axle” mingled with residents and answered questions about their service in the community, while offering a rare chance to scratch a four-legged member of law enforcement behind the ears.
Citrus Heights Police Lt. Jason Russo told The Sentinel the local department makes a point to play an active role in National Night Out events around the city each year.
“Getting to interact with the public when it’s not an emergency is good for the officers and the community,” said Russo, noting that nine teams from the police department were out visiting the various neighborhood events planned around town on Tuesday. Lt. Russo teamed up with Councilman Albert Fox, while other teams included different members of the city council.
“It’s really a lot of fun getting out there and talking to folks and getting their take on the city,” said Fox.
Across town, the largest and one of the oldest events of the evening, in its 26th year, was being hosted by the Woodmore Oaks Neighborhood Watch as they held their annual event in the lot adjacent to the 7-Eleven at 6840 Woodmore Oaks Drive.
The night held a little bit of something for everyone, complete with an Elvis impersonator, the Casa Robles High School cheerleaders and football team, hula hoop contests, music, hot dog dinners and games. Several Sacramento Metro Firefighters from Station 28 were also in attendance, with the station’s fire engine offering tours to the public.
Not far away at Brooktree Park, the Brooktree Neighborhood Watch hosted their evening event as well. Neighbors gathered to enjoy each other’s company for the evening, complete with picnic tables loaded down with hot dogs, burgers and other homemade goodies.
Carolyn Thomas, while sitting with her granddaughter Samantha Jones, told The Sentinel the evening was especially important to her granddaughter, as Jones’ father was a mechanic for the Sacramento City Police. “She feels a real kinship with the people here,” said Thomas, noting multiple members of law enforcement, both active and retired, in attendance at the event.
Brooktree Neighborhood Watch President Rick Doyle, who also volunteers for the Citrus Heights Police Department, said about 50 people attended the event in his neighborhood, which was was being held for the fifth year in a row. He said the events are helpful in connecting the neighborhood and “allow[ing] people to get to know each other.”
National Night Out began in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch, and now involves over 38 million people across the United States and Canada, according to organizers. The events are often hosted by neighborhood watch groups.
Those interested in forming a watch group can find information available on the police department’s web site, or by contacting the department’s watch coordinator Larissa Wasilevsky at (916) 727-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org.