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National Night Out builds relationships

By KBell
Oct. 5, 2010 at 5:05 a.m.
Updated Oct. 12, 2010 at 5:12 a.m.

Chris Guerra, a Victoria Police Department crime prevention officer, teases Jean Jacques Lumpkins, 2, in the company of Mary Evans, left, James Michael Lumpkins, 3, center, and Sydnee Phillips, 6, during a block party on Milam Street held in honor of National Night Out. Tuesday night's party gave residents a chance to bond with their neighbors in an effort to make the neighborhood safer. The party on Milam Street, which was one of several held around town, featured a bounce house, a hay ride and a DJ.

PURPOSE OF eventBring crime and drug prevention awareness to the forefront.

Encourage participation in local crime prevention programs.

Strengthen neighborhood spirit, and relationships between the police and community.

Send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting against them.

Source: www.nationaltownwatch.org

A Victoria Police Department patrol car pulled up, and the DJ blared the theme song from "COPS."

"Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?"

Officer Chris Guerra got on his intercom and announced, "Ya'll better have some food. That's all I'm saying. There better be some grub," to a street full of laughs.

It was National Night Out, and the block party at 1700 Milam Drive was one of at least 27 parties the police department, sheriff's office and fire department were attending throughout town Tuesday night.

The purpose of the event is to unite neighborhoods in an effort to reduce crime.

Don and Pat DeDear, and Ronnie and Gloria Zandonatti organized the party on their block, which featured a DJ, bounce house, hayride and plenty of food to satisfy neighbors, kids and law enforcement - even Guerra.

"To me, it's not often the police get to have positive contact with people. Our job by nature is negative," Guerra said. "I like getting out here when it's a positive purpose and letting people see we're just normal people doing our job."

With all of the fun being had, neighbors were still focused on the night's intent - fighting crime. Many said the get-together sends a signal to would-be criminals that their neighborhood looks out for each other.

Robert Yanta joked he'd probably worn out four pairs of binoculars watching out for his neighbors during the 35 years he'd lived on the block.

"We don't like crime, and we love our neighborhood," he said. "We've been here too long. We want to enjoy life."

Yanta said neighbors make it a point to tell each other when they're going on vacation, and nobody has hesitations about calling the police when they notice suspicious behavior.

"Heads stick outdoors here," he said. "Or when dogs bark, we all know when something's not right."

Ronnie Zandonatti said last year's National Night Out helped make the neighborhood what it is.

"People are a lot more friendly, waving as they go by. It just helps," he said. "We watch each other. We know now who lives where on both ends, and we more or less take care of each other."

That's the point of National Night Out, Guerra said.

"It's about building relationships," Guerra said, before jumping on the hay ride with a group of kids clinging to his side.

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