Sirens were wailing, lights were flashing and the police were out in force. Nothing was wrong; it was just the members of the Fairfax County Police Department observing the 20th Annual National Night Out in Mount Vernon.
A crime prevention program, National Night Out is now observed in more than 100 communities throughout the region. Since its inception, it has swelled to encompass 9,300 communities nationwide and on military bases around the globe.
Police and county officials spent several hours Tuesday evening visiting Bucknell Manor, Engleside Community, Huntington Grove, Pinewood Lakes, Pinewood Lawns, Woodlawn Manor and Vantage neighborhoods. These neighborhoods all participated with picnics, parties and "lights on."
First on the list for many of the officers was Engleside Community. Here, they visited with coordinators Janice Harris and Jennifer McGuckin. Harris has held the picnic at her home for the past five years, and said, "It's gotten to be a big thing. Everyone looks forward to it. They all bring their favorite dish."
Officer Melissa Jones. "We try to hit all of them," she said. Many of the officers left Engleside to go to Pinewood Lakes, which is one of the largest gatherings in the Mount Vernon area. Neighbors there gathered at poolside with county officials.
"This is where we get to see the community in a good light and they get to know us on a friendly basis," said Fairfax County Police Officer D.J. Plaska.
Fellow County police officer M.J. Jones agreed. "It affords us and the residents an opportunity to get to know the various neighborhoods — who belongs and who doesn't. This particular area is not bad at all. It's very quiet and much more of a community."
Heidi Bopp, a Pinewood Lakes resident distributing crime prevention literature at the pool entrance, said, "This is a great program. It is very effective at deterring crime."
ANOTHER COMMUNITY resident, Doris Economon, brought her 18-month old daughter, Kirsten, to the event. "This is a very good program. I'm happy to participate."
Captain Larry Moser, head of the Mount Vernon Station, Fairfax County Police, explained, "The major mission of National Night Out is to bring communities together and promote the neighborhood watch. It gets people to know their neighbors and talk to one another.
"It has been very effective in both crime prevention and in the apprehension of criminals. It also exposes citizens to the wide variety of services available to them in the area of public safety."
PFC Derrick Hill, Fairfax County Sheriff's Department, added, "This should be done more than once a year. It really gives neighbors a chance to see police officers in a different light."
JOINING WITH the neighbors and police representative were also members of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department as well as Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland. "This event is great for both the residents of our various neighborhoods and for
law enforcement. It brings them closer together," Hyland said.
In addition to the comradery around the complex's pool, pizza and sodas, donated by Rosie's Restaurant located in the Days Inn South Alexandria, were enjoyed. The refreshments were distributed by Ginger Krup, organizer of Pinewood Lake's National Night Out. She was joined by neighbors helping dish out food and distributing information about crime prevention.
In addition to neighborhood gathering, some communities opted to show their support through a "lights on" program, where homeowners were encouraged to keep their outdoor lights illuminated to highlight the need for year-round safety. "We also encourage this in addition to the neighborhood watch activities," Moser said.
Tuesday night, their were National Night Out festivities in each of the eight police districts across Fairfax County. These included block parties, picnics, parades, and various children's events, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.
Among the literature distributed to attendees at the Pinewood Lake event was a sign-up sheet for Neighborhood Watch volunteers, a six- page handout explaining the structure of the program and giving suggestions of what to watch for, and a detailed booklet on Home Security.
OVER AT Bucknell Manor, neighbors were starting to gather at the home of Louise Boaz. She was ready with hot brownies and ice cream. Chauncey Stuart was at Bucknell; he has served as the Neighborhood Watch coordinator for 20 years. They weren't sure, but one of the neighbors thought that the watch may have been in place as far back as the 1950's.
The police officers hadn't arrived there yet, but Boaz expected them and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland, to show before the end of the evening. No matter how they chose to celebrate, the evening provided all with a chance to meet their neighbors and their local police officers.