Tens of thousands of people shook hands with cops in neighborhoods all over the Southland in National Night Out events that have morphed from neighbors doing an hour’s worth of front porch sitting 30 years ago to the elaborate festivals, concerts and parades of today.
The first National Night Out event was held in 1984 when a neighborhood watch volunteer kept hearing that neighbors were getting bored of participating in their neighborhood watch programs.
That man is national director Matt Peskin of the National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit group that sponsors the annual crime-prevention day.
Peskin was responsible for his local watch group's newsletter, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance program, which funds National Night Out. After contacting other groups for story ideas, Perkins heard back that every group was having trouble keeping volunteers interested. "He suggested they start an association to coordinate their activities and share information,” the Bureau's website says.
Peskin said the event started as a symbolic one with neighbors turning on their front porch lights and sitting out for an hour or two.
“People kind of liked it,” he told KPCC. “It was kind of a way to register their vote against crime.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the organization introduced block parties, parades and festivals in order to enhance participation, get more families involved and to make it more fun overall.
In Boyle Heights, community members traditionally hold a peace march. Block parties are the norm for several central Los Angeles neighborhoods, and in Mar Vista on Tuesday, organizers showed the Disney movie “Frozen” in the park when the sun went down.
Monica Harmon organized that event at the Mar Vista Recreation Center with the L.A. Police Department’s Pacific Division. She said the fun stuff is for the kids. The real stuff happens when neighbors start talking and meeting each other at these events.
“That’s the best way to engage in your community to prevent crime, is keeping an eye and everyone dialoguing,” Harmon said.