In a national climate that is seeing escalating discord between law enforcement and the communities they serve, many police agencies looked forward to a much-needed night out.
The Tustin Police Department, along with agencies across Orange County, on Tuesday invited the community to a family-friendly event for residents to meet and learn about those who serve the city.
National Night Out, founded in 1984, started as a crime prevention program in which neighbors would flip their porch light on, gather for block parties and stand alongside law enforcement to ensure neighborhood safety.
Although this remains the core of program, today’s law enforcement faces a different set of challenges, casting the event in a new light — an important way to build community trust.
Tustin may seem far removed from events that have damaged police-community relationships, from large scale protests, to targeted attacks on police, but the impact resonates throughout law enforcement.
“You might see our officers wearing black bands around their badges. Those are mourning bands, and we wear them when an officer in the state is killed in the line of duty,” said Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano. “Unfortunately, we are wearing these bands more often.
“There is a lot of tension between the police and the community and I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what helps — events like this. I am grateful that you are here tonight to show that you stand side by side with the police to keep this community safe. There’s nothing more important than that.”
There was no contention and no protest at Tustin’s event, hosted at the District at Tustin Legacy, just families enjoying a warm evening of music, police displays and games.
“Our police department’s strength is community involvement,” said Tustin Mayor John Nielsen. “They go above and beyond. They form relationships; they help the community. I think we have the best police department in the region.”
Children climbed on the Orange County Fire Authority’s fire engine and U.S. Army military vehicles, played tic-tac-toe and ring toss, and jumped in a Mickey Mouse-themed bounce house.
More than a dozen local businesses and organizations also were on-hand to engage the steady stream of passersby.
Tustin PD’s K9 Bravo drew the largest crowd when he showcased his penchant for catching bad guys in front of an impressed audience of children and their parents.
Bruce Patel, who recently moved to Tustin with his wife and three children, said he came to National Night Out to meet those who serve his new town.
“They should have more of these kinds of events because it really shows a different side to the police department,” Patel said. “I think this is a great thing.”
Maria Ramirez said she has been attending National Night Out with her family for years, and she looks forward to casual interaction with the men and women who serve her city.
“I love it, and I think it teaches children that instead of being afraid of the police, they know that (officers) are their friends,” Ramirez said. “I think it is very important that our police stay involved in the community.”