Santa Ana Police Department’s National Night Out festivities gave the community an opportunity to get an up-close primer on every facet of the department directly from the sworn and professional members of the department doing the job every day.
Staged annually on the first Tuesday in August, National Night Out events are hosted by law enforcement agencies to showcase their departments and foster a sense of community by bringing the police and neighbors together in a relaxed, family friendly atmosphere. Santa Ana Police Department held its family friendly National Night Out event on Aug. 2, 2022 at Thornton Park.
“The way I can describe it is an open house for law enforcement and for our community members to just spend time with the police,” said Commander Joe Marty, who oversees the department’s Community Engagement Division. “The biggest message is that we are their police department. I stress ‘their’ because we belong to them. It is an absolute partnership and collaboration. Crimes are not solved by just law enforcement. They are solved together with community members by both of us coming together.”
Attendees learned what forensic specialists and dispatchers do, when to call 911, and when not to call 911. They learned about the role of the traffic unit and when the SWAT team is called into action.
Little ones got to straddle Santa Ana Police Department’s futuristic-looking BMX motorcycles.
“They want to know how fast it goes,” Motor Officer Rene Guerrero said. “They want to know what all the buttons are for. I always tell them to wear their helmets. We preach helmets.”
Officers at the Traffic Division tent, in fact, were giving away bicycle helmets, reflectors, and other safety gear to community members. Attendees also got to meet 24-year-old Chex and 11-year-old Willow, the horses who make up Santa Ana Police Department’s mounted unit.
“Santa Ana doesn’t have a lot of horses,” said Detective Jorge Garcia, Chex’s rider and owner. “So anytime they see one in the city, it puts a smile on people’s faces, especially children. It’s just a joy for us to share them with the city.”
K9 Officer Ryan Shifflett and his 3-year-old Belgian Malinois partner, Kuno, were a popular meet-and-greet team.
“Being out here for National Night Out is always a great chance to show the community that these dogs are just happy go lucky friendly dogs that are just very well trained and just do what we need them to do, when we need them to do it,” Shifflett said.
National Night Out began in 1984 as a community-building and crime prevention initiative. The first ever National Night Out was held in 400 communities in 23 states and was attended by 2.5 million community members, according to the organization’s website. Now in its 38th year, National Night Out events take place in 16,000 communities nationwide and draw an estimated 38 million attendees.
Maria Silares was passing through Santa Ana from the Bay area to visit family when she decided to stop by Thornton Park for the festivities with her 16-year-old daughter, 10-year-old niece and 6-year-old nephew.
Knocking down the barrier of communication between the police and the community makes National Night Out events an important part of the department’s community relations.
“A lot of our community are afraid of the police,” Silares said. “There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Ammy Beltran from Santa Ana, who came with her two sons, said National Night Out events can help children feel safe.
“I think it’s especially important for my kids, because they are kids of color,” said Beltran, a music teacher at Valley High School in Santa Ana. “I think it is especially important for my kids to feel safe, that they know who the people in their police department are. That makes me feel safer.”