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Neighbors unite in National Night Out
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Turlock firefighter Cameron Kaiser hands out plastic helmets at a National Night Out party on El Capitan Drive on Tuesday. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

There were plenty of reasons to draw Turlock residents out of the comforts of their homes Tuesday night and mingle with the neighbors: the aroma of burgers on the barbecue; the fizz of a freshly poured rootbeer float; the unexpected though gratefully accepted cool breeze. But most of all it was to make a statement that these neighborhoods would not be easy picking for any criminals.

Neighborhoods all across Turlock participated in the annual National Night Out celebration Tuesday night, with 35 of them registering their parties with the Turlock Police Department and earning a visit from community leaders, public safety officials, law enforcement, fire fighters, and if they’re really lucky, McGruff the Crime Dog or Sparky the Fire Dog.

National Night Out is a national movement designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for local anticrime efforts, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.

“The neighborhoods that participate in National Night Out do usually have an increased number of calls reporting suspicious activity,” said Turlock Police Crime Prevention Officer Michelle Backeroff. “It builds a partnership with the department and serves as extra eyes and ears out there.”

During National Night Out residents across the country are asked to leave the confines of their home and step outside and get to know their neighbors. As a symbol of the long-standing event, residents are also asked to turn on their porch lights. Many neighborhoods host block parties, ice cream socials, barbecues and other special events for the night.

For some the event is an annual tradition. Patrick Bettencourt has hosted a National Night Out barbecue at his El Capitan home for the past five years.

"We enjoy bringing our community members together. It's a good chance to keep in touch with our neighbors and meet new neighbors," Bettencourt said.

In 2014, the City of Turlock won an award from the National Association of Town Watch for an exceptional sixth year of participation in the program. Turlock residents sponsored 32 block parties last year.

The City of Turlock’s Parks, Recreation, and Facilities Department sponsored a community event at Columbia Park for those residents that didn’t have neighborhood parties planned.