There is National Night Out and then there is National Night out in Pasadena.
Always held on the first Tuesday in August, National Night Out events are staged by law enforcement agencies around the country as a way to strengthen partnerships between the police and the community.
Festivities typically include demonstrations and displays by the police, tours of the police department, information booths and food.
The Pasadena Police Department has all that, but then they take it a big step further.
While the demonstrations, displays and meet-and-greats with the police and city officials took place at Eaton Blanche Park, there were 22 block parties scattered throughout the city, organized as a joint celebration involving individual communities and Pasadena PD.
“It’s really the one night of the year we start off fresh and the officers meet the communities,” Police Chief John Perez said. “They meet us in very relaxed environments. We just try to really connect a lot more residents than we did the year before.”
Some have live music. All have plenty of food and fellowship.
Then there is arguably the most special block party of all – the one along Sunset Avenue near Orange Grove Boulevard.
The street was once overtaken by street gangs and overridden with crime.
Gang members, not families, were throwing parties on the street, said Susana Porras, a 20 year resident of the street.
“There were shootings here,” Porras said. “We would wake up to graffiti all over the walls, graffiti all over the sidewalks. It was a mess. I said these kids are going to get hurt out here.”
So in 2006, Porras and her neighbor went out and knocked on doors and organized a neighborhood watch group.
The police told them it would be a good idea to throw a block party.
“We thought it was the most ridiculous thing to do but whatever the police told us to do, we were doing it,” Porras said. “We threw our first block party and it was a success and we’ve been doing it for 13 years now.”
The residents of Sunset Avenue made such a radical transformation on their block, it prompted Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger to award them with a commendation on Aug.6, the day of the National Night Out block party
The commendation reads:
“In recognition of dedicated service to the affairs of the community and for the civic pride demonstrated for numerous contributions for the benefit of all the residents of Los Angeles County.”
Porras credits Pasadena PD and other city officials for providing key support throughout the process of cleaning up the street.
“Everybody’s been pitching in,” Porras said.
As a band played on one end of Sunset during National Night Out, children were making chalk art on the street and police officers were chatting with residents.
Tables laid end to end were covered with picnic food, being served up by neighbors volunteering their time.
“This street is special,” Perez said. “The crime aspect has dropped off the face of the earth. It’s truly a model for the entire city for how to take a problem area and make it better with the collaboration of the entire neighborhood. It is a safe place.”