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Turning Lights On, Keeping Guard Up

19th Annual National Night Out sweeps through town.

August 14, 2002

Hundreds of Herndon residents in 16 local neighborhoods joined with local law enforcement officers last week to celebrate the 19th Annual National Night Out, a crime and drug prevention event.

The annual event, held last Tuesday, Aug. 6, is intended to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness and help generate support for anti-crime and anti-drug campaigns throughout the country. In addition, the festivities — some elaborate others as simple as turning on a porch light — tries to strengthen community-police relations.

Amelia White, manager of Elden Terrace, a community of 184 families on Dulles Park Court has been through "several" National Night Out events over the years. "I am very pleased at the turn-out tonight," the 11-year Elden Terrace resident said while surveying the hamburgers cooking on a nearby grill. "It is a very important opportunity for neighbors and new comers to see how organized against crime our community really is."

The program in Herndon has been so successful town officials added a second police motorcade. The 16 participating neighborhoods were a record number, police said. The motorcades, which included members of the Herndon Police, Fairfax County Sheriff's Office, the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority and McGruff the Crime Dog, stopped for about 15 minutes in each neighborhood. Watch groups throughout Herndon greeted the roving caravan of bikes, patrol cars and classic cars, with cookouts, cookies, cold drinks and the occasional pool party.

"THIS EVENT is always a lot of work, but it is also a lot of fun," said Herndon Police Officer John Williams. "It's a great maintenance tool for neighborhood watch programs and a great way to encourage neighborhoods to start new watch programs."

Sgt. Donald Amos of the Herndon Police believes symbolic events like these are extremely valuable to a community. It is an important tool to "spread the word" about the effectiveness of neighborhood watch programs, Amos said "It is also our way of showing we are united with the community," the sergeant added. "With the whole homeland security issue, neighborhood watch just took on a whole new level of importance."

Lisa Cammarota, the Herndon police community resource officer, reported four new neighborhood watch programs began after Sept. 11, and another dozen or so are in the works. Steve Savage, who lives in the nearby Cypress Tree neighborhood, said his community decided to act pro-actively. "We really began looking out for outsiders and looking out for each other especially after Sept. 11," said Savage, as he worked at table trying to sign up neighbors into his watch organization. "That is why this evening is so important."

THIS YEAR'S National Night Out festivities included John Marshall, Secretary of Public Safety in Virginia, who joined the chief's twilight caravan through the streets of Herndon. At an evening Town Hall rally, Marshall stressed the importance of community policing and neighborhood watch groups. "The role of National Night Out and neighborhood watch has taken on increased importance in light of 9/11. Ultimately homeland security begins in our own homes," he told the crowd. "The effectiveness of homeland security is diminished if we don't feel secure and safe in our own homes. To do this, we must work together."

In the Lifestyle community, Carol Schoniwitz, said her community started their neighborhood watch last year. "We all have to be aware of what's around us. We are all more conscious of something, or someone, that is suspicious and we are more likely to report it, Schoniwitz said. "Whereas before we just went back into our apartments and hid."

Across town, Beth Prester and her husband Richard Harold said their Herndon Woods community came together after a fire in the neighboring Dulles Green apartment complex threatened their quiet neighborhood last year. "That fire got us moving as an organization," Prester said. "We were inactive, but no longer. We know the neighborhood better than anyone and we know our neighbors."

"Our watch program has made a huge difference," said Tony Trojanowski, a neighbor of Prester and Harold. In the name of safety, the Herndon Woods neighborhood association recently added three street lights and a lighted sign at a cost of nearly $7,000, Trojanowski added.

At all the stops along his motorcade route, Police Chief Toussaint Summers urged Herndon residents to turn on their exterior lights. "Turn your porch lights on as symbols that we are taking control of our neighborhoods," the chief said at a stop in Lifestyle. "It is very important that the police and the community work together because the police cannot do it all by themselves."