Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009 | 9:54 p.m.
Communities across the Las Vegas Valley came together Tuesday to celebrate the 26th Annual National Night Out.
National Night Out is a crime- and drug-prevention event sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. The event, which began in 1984, is designed to bring neighbors together, heighten awareness about crime and drug activity and strengthen neighborhood and police relations.
“Crime isn’t just a police problem,” said Todd Rasmussen, public information officer for the Henderson Police Department. “It’s a community problem.”
Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen said what he and others hope to accomplish through National Night Out is a united front against crime.
“It’s good to have the residents come down here and show their support of that,” he said.
In Henderson, people strolled around the plaza on South Water Street, enjoying complimentary food and drinks and carrying plastic bags filled with free goods. Live music, performed by the Sun City Surfers, blared through the plaza.
Information booths were set up by the city and event sponsors. A fire truck and ambulance were on display to allow people to take a closer look. People stood in line to sit in a contraption that simulates the impact of being in a car accident.
Last year, Rasmussen said, more than 5,000 people attended the event.
The event is also an opportunity for residents to meet law enforcement officers in a friendly, relaxed setting.
Carrie Yurek said she has been going to National Night Out for the past several years and thinks it is great way for the community to see the services provided by the police department and city.
“Unless you’re in trouble, you don’t really get to see what they can do,” she said, though she admitted she might be biased because her husband, Toby, used to work in the community relations unit that puts on the event.
“So much of what you do as a cop is you deal with people who don’t want to deal with you,” Toby Yurek said. “And events like this give the cops an opportunity to come deal with people who they want to deal with and they want to know.”
Police officer Nick Papacs said too often people have negative experiences with the police, but events like National Night Out give residents a way to meet officers in a non-threatening environment.
“It kind of bridges that gap of what we do, the mystique,” Papacs said. “We’re your neighbors, too. We’re a part of the community, as well.”
On the north side of Las Vegas, at the Doolittle Community Center, 1950 J St., community members commemorating fallen Metro Police officer James Manor, who died in a collision in May while responding to a call.
“Manor was a hero who felt he needed to get there to save a life,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said just before the unveiling of a mural in the officer’s honor.
Manor’s family has always participated in the programs offered by the Doolittle Center. James Manor worked there during college semester breaks.
The Manor family uncovered the mural, which is located adjacent to the West Las Vegas Library. The brightly painted mural, adorned with the Hawaiian phrase for family, ohana, was the concept of local artist Mario Smith and a team of teens.
“The kids were all referred to me by the community ... They never had the opportunity to do something big,” he said.
Manor’s mother, Linda Manor-Wright, said that she was proud of her community for coming together and honoring her son and said it was wonderful to unveil his mural on National Night Out. “This is just perfect,” she said.
The crowd that gathered at the community center was offered free hot dogs and tours of a fire engine and a SWAT vehicle. American Medical Response Explorers, the Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Explorers, Sunrise Children’s Foundation and DARE set up booths.
In The Lakes community, at least 500 people were expected for National Night Out.
“This is an opportunity for people to mix with city officials,” said Ward 2 Councilman Steve Wolfson, who sponsored the event. “We want to show people that representatives serve them and that we’re approachable and will respond to them.”
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman also was in attendance. “We’re here to pay tribute to the folks in the community that protect us,” he said.
Neighbors mingled with each other and enjoyed free hamburgers and ice cream. “This feels like a small town,” said attendee Kristin Kirch.
Resident Denille Ingalls said the event instills a greater sense of community and is a way to build relationships with police. “Once the personal connection is made, then you’re more likely to call them when you need help,” Ingalls said.