Aug. 14, 2002
Police cars lined the parking lot of Woodbury Park Apartments last Tuesday night. But the crowd gathered on the lawn weren’t gawking at a crime scene.
They were munching on hamburgers and hotdogs as police dogs ran through their paces and bass-heavy music blasted from a sound system set up on the lawn, at one of 16 Arlington events for the 19th annual National Night Out.
Police say it helps everyone when people can meet officers in a party atmosphere.
“The nature of things is, we’re called to intervene when emotions are running high,” police Chief Edward Flynn said Tuesday. “When we have an opportunity to deal with people in a calm environment, that’s when relationships are forged.”
THAT WAS ONE of the main motivations behind the Woodbury Park party, said Colin Bill, resident services coordinator at the apartment complex. He invited out the teenagers that he works with, along with their parents and little brothers and sisters.
“I was pleasantly surprised that a majority of the kids showed up and seemed comfortable” around the police officers, Bill said. “It’s good for them to realize that the police are just people doing a job, and they can actually be there to help them sometimes.”
It was helpful to have the police at the block party, said Ryan Price. Price, 14, lives in Woodbury Park and will start his freshman year at Yorktown next month. Some of the teenagers who live in the apartment complex end up causing trouble, he said. But the block party drew everyone out of their apartments. “It’s good for the community, it gets the little kids out,” Price said.
His friend Alexis Sanchez, 14, agreed. “Everybody comes out,” he said of the block party. “You can meet your neighbors, or people who just moved in.”
THERE WERE BLOCK parties all around Arlington, along with cookouts, ice cream socials and picnics, north, south, east and west, in all four districts that Arlington police patrol. This year’s Night Out events were the most ever in the county, Flynn said. “We really took a direct role, and had the district commanders try to create some events.”
That philosophy sent police officers on a neighborhood walk starting at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 830 23rd St. S., and stopping by ice cream socials and potluck suppers around the county.
“It started to raise consciousness of individuals in the community to protect against crime,” Flynn said. “But it evolved over the years, as community policing philosophies have taken hold, to get the community out on the street. What it’s become is a real good reason to have a block party.”
THAT ATMOSPHERE HELPED attract attention to the Woodbury Park celebration. Roy Bowser, from Hampton, Va., was staying at the nearby Days Inn when he heard the music from Woodbury’s lawn.
“I think it does work to give the community a positive idea of police officers,” said Bowser, “doing what they’re doing today, or getting McGruff in to talk to kids.”
His son, Antoine Bowser, agreed. But the Night Out events also build relationships within the neighborhood, he said. “It gets the community talking,” said Bowser, a Baltimore resident. “Because you can live two doors down from a guy and never talk to him.”
That was another reason Bill welcomed police suggestions for the block party. “That’s part of my job, is to create a sense of community,” he said. “It’s just a fun event, with the music and the food — it helps to build solidarity.”