Three-year-old Dylan Forman was speechless as he rounded the corner at Ballast Court in Burke to the sight of fire trucks, police cars, an ambulance, motorcycles and neighbors, all celebrating the neighborhood event known as "National Night Out," Tuesday, Aug. 6. His mother, Dawn Forman, summed it up, as Dylan donned his fire hat and T-shirt.
"He's been talking about it for weeks," she said.
Members of the Longwood Knolls community continued to pour in for sodas and snacks as neighborhoods around the country celebrated the event. Carl R. Peed, director of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services, was on hand as well. He looked at the significance of the police officers, firefighters and citizens all on one level.
"This is community policing at its best. It's the police and neighborhood working together," he said.
West Springfield District Station's crime prevention officer Jayne Woolf had a similar outlook.
"I think it's a great opportunity to bring communities together. We're trying to get the communities to know their officers. That's the basis of community policing," she said.
THE NATIONAL NIGHT OUT is a by-product of the National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit crime-prevention organization. The first Tuesday in August was officially established as the National Night Out in 1984, with 400 communities in 23 states participating, according to information on its Web site. Last year, the numbers grew to 33 million people in 9,700 communities in all 50 states.
Arnie Daxe was the master of ceremonies at Ballast Court. He is the vice president of the civic association, which establishes the community guidelines for the 554 homes in Longwood Knolls.
"I like to focus on the unseen members of the community," Daxe said.
Patrick Bland, a motorcycle officer with the Virginia State Police, liked the contact instead of just seeing the people at high speeds from his motorcycle.
"I love interacting with people. These types of events make us accessible," he said.
Niall Swider, 12, looked in awe at the activity on the court.
"It's really cool. In the movies they portray them [police] as top of the law, fast cars. They don't always eat jelly donuts and stuff," he said.
OVER IN CARDINAL ESTATES, Fairfax County Police officer Kyle Kunstel knew the layout since he frequently patrolled the neighborhood. He showed up on National Night Out to meet and greet.
"This is the general area that I work. I haven't had much of a problem in this area at all," he said, noting occurrences of vehicle tampering were the most extreme.
Kunstel joined the neighbors, who gathered in a park behind a row of houses in the neighborhood. There was food and sodas for all in attendance. Andy Chaves is a member of their Neighborhood Watch, which consisted of about 10 residents.
"I've already met three families that I didn't know before," he said.
Carla Spears was judging the children's art contest.
"The one with the nose and to know your neighbors, it's an interesting concept," she said, pointing to one of the drawings. In the end, Paul Foster, 10, and Willie Spears, 6, walked away with the prizes in the safety poster contest. Paul talked about his inspirations.
"I like drawing people with big noses," he said.
There are 169 homes in the Burke community and about 40 people in attendance at the celebration. William Davey thought it was a lot.
"This is a good turnout for us," he said.
Becky Chaves was instrumental in getting the neighbors involved for the first time.
"Our idea was to try to get people familiar with the neighbors, getting people involved," she said.
KINGS PARK in Springfield also had a National Night Out gathering in Susan Brionez’s back yard, but the participants’ concentration teetered between neighborhood awareness and cut-through traffic. Speed humps and road-narrowing islands were installed, but the problem still exists.
"The speed of the cut-throughs, that's our biggest problem," Brionez said.
Anna Lisa did see some results from the speed humps.
"I did see a guy trash his oil pan," she said.
Although the neighbors in the Brionezes’ back yard complained about the traffic, they also had other reasons for gathering. At the height of their evening, there were about 35 people, according to Brionez. She heard about National Night Out in the community newsletter.
"My purpose of doing this is to let neighbors, two or three houses away that haven't met each other, know their neighbor. Any excuse to have a party," she said.
Brionez did look on the bright side as well.
"If there has to be a good side to the traffic, it would be hard for someone to break down my front door with all the cars going by. I appreciate seeing them drive by, knowing somebody's watching," she said.
Before the stop signs, speed humps and lane-narrowing devices, Brionez admitted things were worse.
"The stop signs and the humps are a deterrent. It used to be a lot worse," she said.