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National Night Out brings community together

By chirst
Oct. 2, 2012 at 5:02 a.m.

Chris Guerra, crime prevention officer for the Victoria Police Department, gets a high-five from Aidan Zavala, 8, after he gave him a police badge sticker during a National Night Out party Tuesday at Salem Village Apartments. Guerra's visit to the party was personal because he grew up in the complex.

Clutching his prized Crazy Eight card deck, 4-year-old Billy Hohertz proudly directed attention to his new police badge.

As he strolled through the National Night Out crowds Tuesday night, a smiling Billy distributed the cards to passers-by.

Almost everyone at the party got a card - but the police officer got the best one.

"Will you take care of it?" Billy Hohertz asked as he tugged on the officer's pants. "Will you keep it?"

To most, a single Crazy Eights card is worthless. But to Billy, it was the gift he had to offer his new best friend, Victoria Police Officer Chris Guerra.

"I have very positive impressions of police officers that have lasted a lifetime and influenced me," Guerra said, his hand comforting on Billy's shoulder. "They would hand out baseball cards and we could ask them questions. That was a bond that stuck with me."

Tuesday, it was Guerra's turn to answer questions as children surrounded him and vied for his attention.

"The kids want to know what's on your belt, what is this, what is it for ... It is all about the uniform with the kids," Guerra said, laughing.

The parents, Guerra said, take the opportunity to ask questions like what to do if they suspect drug activity or how to get involved with volunteering.

Billy's mom, Darci Nedeau, said she was excited the Civilian Police Academy Alumni sponsored the party at Salem Village Apartments this year.

"I'd rather them know the police as being nice, as opposed to being afraid of them," Nedeau said of her children.

Nedeau said the party also helps build community in the complex, as neighbors come out to mingle, share the barbecue and watch the kids play in the bounce house.

"That is what we need right now, is more community," Nedeau said. "It means we would have more people watching out for each other."

Building community is one of the primary purposes of National Night Out, which aims to lower crime in neighborhoods.

Even though Victoria has participated in National Night Out for at least 10 years, Guerra said this was the first year to have a sponsored block party.

"What I would like to see is some of the other organizations step up and kind of compete to see who can throw the best party for neighborhoods that can't really afford it," Guerra said.

Diana Rhodes, treasurer for the Civilian Police Academy Alumni, said the organization raised about $400 to put the event together.

"It is neat, because they wouldn't be having a party otherwise," she said. "The kids come to see the police officers and we are trying to make them aware that the police officers are their friends and they can trust them."

Billy seemed to embrace the lesson, as he hugged Guerra goodbye.

Guerra, in turn, promised to return to Salem Village in the next few weeks to play ball with the kids, who lined up to give him high fives and fist bumps.



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