Police officers, firefighters, city officials and residents came together for block parties around Pleasanton on Tuesday night in honor of National Night Out.
The event is in its 33rd year nationally, with the Pleasanton Police Department participating for 15 years. It began locally with four neighborhood block parties and has grown to encompass 35 such parties throughout Pleasanton.
National Night Out is designed to strengthen partnerships between police departments and community members as well as heighten crime- and drug-awareness.
Larry Cox, an investigating sergeant with Pleasanton police, was one of several officers at a National Night Out party in the Stoneridge Park neighborhood. Cox estimates he's only missed two of the city's National Night Out events in the last 15 years.
"What I find to be the best part is the human side of things," Cox said. "You get to play ball with the kids and let them see some of our equipment so they're seeing we're just people like they are."
He added that the evening gives officers an opportunity to interact with community members in a way they typically aren't able to.
"A lot of times when we're working we're not always able to stop and talk we've got the next call pending and we don't get to have real interactions," Cox said. "It's important to have this once a year where we can just break bread and have fun."
The evening kicked off with a barbeque dinner for officers and residents at the Pleasanton Gardens Community Center. Then officers dispersed among the many block parties happening throughout the city.
At the Stoneridge Park event, officers mingled alongside neighbors, showing curious children the department's SWAT vehicle and remote controlled robot. Residents ate dinner at picnic tables, some talking to neighbors they hadn't spoken to before.
Sandy Holliday, a Pleasanton resident of 20 years, was one of several block captains for the neighborhood's first ever National Night Out party.
A recently retired lieutenant from the Milpitas Police Department, she said she was happy to see the higher than anticipated turnout. She expected approximately 80 people, but when signage for the event went up in recent days so did RSVPs. She counted roughly 155 people at Tuesday's event.
Holliday thinks National Night Out has already made a difference in her neighborhood, as organizing it has gotten people communicating and networking with one another more.
"There are a lot of neighbors that never even knew their next-door neighbor, and now they're sitting there having dinner," she said.
She added that National Night Out presents the opportunity to increase crime awareness. In March, Stoneridge Park residents got together and formed a neighborhood watch group in response to recent residential burglaries. There have been none since, she said.
"We want to instill in them to call 911 if it's an emergency because the police need to know while it's happening," Holliday said. "I hope they are getting to know their neighbors and are getting comfortable with reporting suspicious activity."
Neighboring communities including Danville, San Ramon and Dublin also took part in National Night Out.