Neighbors Meeting Neighbors in the Foothills

By Michael J. ARVIZU, Leonard COUTIN, Jason KUROSU and Mary O’KEEFE

At its foundation, National Night Out turns back time to the cop-on-the-beat era when law enforcement and firefighters knew the local businesses and neighbors. NNO also tries to bring back the philosophy of neighbors helping neighbors. Although logical and altruistic, this concept had been lost as communities over the years grew larger and free time lessened.

In 1984, the National Association of Town Watch, a non-profit organization that concentrated on crime prevention, began the National Night Out program. That first year, 400 communities took part across America in 23 states and it has grown to 15,000 communities spanning the U.S., Canada and military bases worldwide.

La Crescenta / La Cañada Flintridge
This year La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge combined efforts, hosting their NNO event at the Ralphs market parking lot in La Crescenta.

Booths from local community organizations and law enforcement were set up with information for residents. Paul Dutton, captain of Community Emergency Response Team [CERT], was the committee chair for the event.

“It went very well,” Dutton said. “I contacted a lot of services.”

It was a mix of law enforcement and emergency responders mixed with nonprofits.

“It was a good idea to combine the efforts of La Crescenta and La Cañada,” said Dep.  Jorge Valdivia of CV Sheriff’s Station Community Relations.

Valdivia and Dutton were pleased with the turn out. Attendees kept booths busy from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

It was a way to meet and greet those who protect local neighborhoods from crime and fire, those who look out for neighborhoods through Neighborhood Watch and supporting organizations that keep the community active and safe.

North Glendale
Julia Leeper remembered years ago when a robber ran through her neighborhood yards on Sycamore Avenue, attempting to elude police after robbing a store nearby. Leeper, as head of the Neighborhood Watch, was able to contact her neighbors to warn them and also contact local police officers she knew to resolve the problem.

Such is the aim of National Night Out, the nationwide event that marked its 30th year Tuesday night.

Leeper gathered her neighbors to Twelve Oaks Lodge for the event, enticing them with a raffle for prizes and desserts.

“This is a good opportunity for us to get to know each other,” Leeper told the group of around 100 people prior to the raffle. “You know who belongs in what house.”

“We’re really fortunate to have an event like this,” said Leeper. “These events have made us very cohesive within the neighborhood.”

Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa praised the residents’ efforts in coming together and forming a Neighborhood Watch, as well as participating in National Night Out. De Pompa credited such efforts as part of why Glendale posted “the second largest crime reduction” nationwide for cities with populations larger than 100,000.

“The key is an engaged community,” said De Pompa. “When all of you take the time to come out and get to know each other, care enough to watch out for each other, you harden the target and you make it very difficult for a criminal element to have any success here.”

Glendale Police Captain Carl Povalaitis also stressed the importance of neighborhood involvement in crime reduction.

“Safe communities don’t happen by accident,” said Povalaitis. “It begins with the relationships between the police and the neighbors.”

Nearly 50 such events took place around Glendale Tuesday night.

Lynda Hessick of Oak Circle Drive had neighbors gather on her lawn for a movie screening. She notified her neighbors of the event via Oak Circle’s Facebook page, though anyone passing by would surely notice the inflatable Sky Guy flapping in the wind or the movie projection.

Throughout the foothills, National Night Out events were held in public places, like  the Ralphs market in La Crescenta and neighborhoods including Oakmont Woods.
Throughout the foothills, National Night Out events were held in public places, like
the Ralphs market in La Crescenta and neighborhoods including Oakmont Woods.

Though the Oak Circle residents had a good time and were visited by three policemen throughout the night, Hessick did feel that attendance was low.

“I feel that not a lot of people really know what National Night Out is about,” said Hessick.

In nearby Oakmont Woods, many of the neighbors gathered at the local pool to take part in NNO. Glendale Police Officer Frank Martinez greeted residents and neighbor Sylvia Macias raffled off gifts.

Sunland observed its first NNO event at Sunland Park, while Stonehurst Park observed its 14th. The Stonehurst Park event drew neighbors from nearby Sun Valley, Lake View Terrace and Shadow Hills.

“The people need a chance to talk with the police officers,” said Stonehurst Park NNO coordinator and 1st vice president of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council Phil Tabbi. “LAPD likes to come on the boulevard because they’re able to communicate with the residents. They can’t do that just patrolling the streets.”

The goals of NNO, said Sunland Park NNO coordinator and Shadow Hills resident Debra Stephens, is to promote Neighborhood Watch efforts in an attempt to curb neighborhood criminal activity and for people to meet the police department, to see that they’re “just normal people and really nice guys,” she said.

“A lot of people are intimidated,” Stephens said as to the reason someone might be hesitant to meet with a police officer. “It’s just to get to meet them and know them. I think it makes a safer neighborhood when everybody kind of knows the police.”

By getting to know the police force and seeing what takes place within the department on a day-to-day basis, Stephens said, residents enter into a sort of partnership with the department. This collaboration, she said, makes crime reducing efforts much more efficient. Stephens is also a member of the LAPD’s Community Police Advisory Board, which works with the department to create neighborhood watches and relay crime issues.

Tabbi credits the police department for its willingness to maintain an open dialogue with neighbors. However, it is up to the neighbors, he said, to speak with the police and share their concerns. Getting neighbors to speak to the police is one of the biggest challenges the department faces, he said.

“The residents know more than the police, because they live there and they see what goes on,” Stephens said. “The communication is very valuable.”

NNO offers residents an opportunity to socialize and meet each other, as well. Seldom, Tabbi said, do people meet their neighbors outside of a disaster situation such as a fire or earthquake.

“We fix issues and I get to know about my neighbors and help them out,” said Stonehurst neighborhood resident Josie Berrones of NNO.

Tabbi expected about 100 to 300 people to attend this year’s local NNO event at Stonehurst Park.
Photos by Leonard COUTIN, Jason KUROSU, Mary O’KEEFE and Charly SHELTON