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Lights On, Night Out

Police, residents prepare for neighborhood events for National Night Out.

Betty MacDonald has been organizing her neighborhood's National Night Out gathering for over a decade, and this year is no exception. Earlier this week she put the usual reminder cards in everyone's mailbox.

"It's from 6:30 to 9:30 at the end of our cul-de-sac," said MacDonald who has lived on Vistas Lane in McLean since 1985. "We have a table and a grill, and we have a cook-out. I think it's a reinforcement of our knowledge of each other, as well as the police."

The first National Night Out took place in 1984, and the event has grown each year. Residents in neighborhoods throughout Fairfax County and across the nation are asked to lock their doors, turn on their outside lights and spend the evening outside socializing with their neighbors and local police officers.

MacDonald found out about the event after joining her Neighborhood Watch group. MacDonald, who works for the CIA, also applied for and completed a special 10-week police training program.

"I just felt like it would be strengthening to be a part of the police force in some way and be helpful," she said. "You give and you receive and there's a feeling of strength and independence in all of this."

DIFFERENT neighborhoods organize different events, and local police officers do their best to stop by each one.

"It's not exclusive to Neighborhood Watch groups," said Officer Patrick Lucas, a Crime Prevention Specialist with the McLean Distict station. "Any group that wants to participate can –– it's just a good reason for people to get out and do stuff."

Events in the past have included candlelight vigils and flashlight walks, to ice cream socials and barbecues.

"It all depends on the size of the community," said Lucas. "A lot of people use it as a social gathering activity."

McLean resident Jane Barrett organizes a National Night Out ice cream social for her condominium association on Lillian Court. Five years ago, Barrett was getting ready to retire when a local police officer came to her building to talk about the Neighborhood Watch program.

"He mentioned that they need volunteers in the police department, which I had never heard of," said Barrett who has lived at Lillian Court since 1996.

Subsequently, Barrett started her local Neighborhood Watch group, and became a volunteer at the McLean District police station. When she heard about National Night Out, she called Paradise Ice Cream –– a company used by one of her former offices –– to see if they could bring a truck to her neighborhood for the event.

"I think it gets the officers to know your community, and it gets people to respond," said Barrett. "It's all the same story everywhere –– people complain about security, but they don't do anything about it. I do it for the officers... because I don't think that they're appreciated."