As Addison Keeling munched on a hot dog and listened to music, all was well with her world. The four-year-old was one of more than 1,000 La Habra residents to attend the National Night Out celebration at Portola Park in La Habra.
Addison, dressed in a Supergirl t-shirt befitting the event’s superhero theme, and her mother, Amie Keeling, were on hand to check out police demonstrations. They were also excited about the other booths and giveaways from community groups as well as playing on the inflatable obstacle course, and possibly catching a free screening of “The Incredibles” across the street later that evening.
The event was part of a nationwide community-building effort that promotes police and community camaraderie. According to organizers, National Night Out, now in its 35th year, is held annually on the first Tuesday in August and is celebrated by 38 million residents in 16,000 communities in all 50 states, plus U.S. territories and military bases.
In La Habra, the event was resuscitated in 2015 after a long hiatus and has grown steadily each year. Last year, well over 1,000 residents attended despite intermittent rain. This year, even in 97-degree heat, organizers said the crowds seemed larger.
Although Amie Keeling said her daughter may be a little young to understand the event, she still felt it was important for Addison to feel comfortable around police and people in uniform.
And Amie Keeling was happy to show her support for police.
“I really appreciate the police and all they do for us,” she said.
On National Night Out, La Habra police officers were cooking free hamburgers and hot dogs for the guests, mingling with the crowd, and just being accessible.
Sgt. Jose Rocha, the department’s public information officer, said most of the cops at the event were volunteers and attending on their own time.
“This is one of our most popular community events,” said Police Chief Jerry Price, who said his department stresses community engagement. Other events the department hosts include Coffee with a Cop; an annual Open House; and Cool Cops which is focused on the kids with water slides and cold treats.
“We have no agenda today,” Price said.
Price also stressed the collaborative efforts of sponsors, City Departments such as Parks and Recreation, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and community groups in pulling off the event.
Among the community groups on hand was the La Habra Collaborative, a group that promotes a number of health, wellness, and social programs across the city. Also attending was Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.
An added attraction at this year’s event was the unveiling of a La Habra Police motorcycle that will be on permanent display in the Children’s Museum.
The Honda ST1300, which was retired from the department’s fleet this year, came complete with lights, but no siren.
Motor Sgt. James Tigner joked a siren would likely empty the museum, but said otherwise “it’s the real deal.”
Jayson Blackburn with Public Works was credited with leading the effort and even custom-built the stand for the bike.
“He was kind of the quarterback,” Tigner said.
After Mayor Tim Shaw and officials staged a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and unveiling, kids climbed aboard the bike.
The first was Preston Murillo, 9.
In his best too-cool-for-school attitude, he shrugged his shoulders and said of the bike, “It’s OK.”
However, Preston’s mother, Marie Murillo, was excited and loved it.
“I think it’s a great addition,” she said, adding that her family regularly comes to the museum.
She also praised the police, saying, “I love that they’re always giving back to the community.”
“Our department is very proactive in connecting with the community,” said Sgt. David Morrison, who headed up the police side of this year’s National Night Out festivities.
Morrison said the connection was summed up in the department’s mission statement: “In partnership with our community, we provide the highest quality of police service with pride, respect, integrity and professionalism.”
“We’re a smaller city so we’re close-knit,” said Motor Officer Sumner Bohee, the emcee for the day’s events.
La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw, who attended with four of his six sons, told a crowd of visitors during opening remarks, “It’s great for me to have all my officers out with all of you.”
In addition to the bike unveiling, free food, and play area, the event also included several K9 demonstrations in which Officer Travis Nelson and his partner, Rita, showed the three-year-old Belgian Malinois’ ability to sniff out trouble, when she found a gun that had been hidden by officers.
There were also watermelon-eating contests, one in which the thinnest girl on stage, Morgan Doty, 13, smoked the competition.
“I thought all the boys would win,” she said.
After the demonstrations and contests, the community convened at Brio Park for a movie under the stars.
Marie Murillo summed up the importance of events like National Night Out for residents and children.
“It gives them confidence that (police) are there for us,” she said. “I think it builds trust.”