If you didn’t come downtown in the evening Aug. 2, you missed quite a party. But don’t fret, there’ll be another National Night Out next year, so you’ll have a chance to meet, greet and maybe even line dance with Hollister’s and San Benito County’s first responders.
Members of every local law enforcement agency, as well as emergency medical responders, forestry service, agriculture commissioner, and firefighters showed off their equipment, let youngsters try on vests, climb in fire engines and police cruisers, and even pet Freeze, Hollister Police Department’s K-9 officer, a Belgian Malinois, who could be scary to a toddler, but allowed anyone who asked his handler, Officer David Anderson, first to pet him. There was even a dynamic trio of superhero stand-ins, including Batman, Spiderman and a Star Wars Stormtrooper (though he may not really be a good guy), with whom kids were clamoring to have their pictures taken.
National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign to promote police and community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie in order to make neighborhoods safer, better places to live, according to the National Association of Town Watch (NATW). The event was established in 1984 with funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice.
According to the Department of Justice bulletin, Practitioner Perspective: “National Night Out’s objectives include refining the nationwide crime prevention campaign, documenting successful crime prevention strategies, disseminating information about successful community-based strategies, providing technical assistance on crime prevention program development, and developing the National Night Out Web site. With continued support from BJA, National Night Out is making communities across the nation safer places to live.”
In Hollister, as Police Chief David Westrick stood in front of the Veterans' Memorial Building, he said it was the third year for the event to be downtown. This year, he said, he wanted it to be in the center of town so everyone had access to it.
“I think it’s important to do it here, at this building and when I asked if we could do it here they said, ‘absolutely,’” he said. “The event brings the police and community together. All the public services are here and we want the folks to understand we’re here for them and we’re a part of the community, and we enjoy serving this community because it’s a great place to be.”
Westrick said that it’s important for the citizens to remember that police officers live in the community, their kids go to local schools, and they shop and eat at restaurants in and around the town.
“I came here in 2003, and I immediately knew that Hollister was my new hometown,” he said.
As hundreds of residents meandered along San Benito Street, and around the plaza in front of the Veterans' Memorial Building looking at the various displays, Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo wasn’t hard to spot as he stood straight and a head taller than most near a vintage fire engine. He agreed with Westrick’s take on the event, calling the event the epitome of the concept of community.
“Other agencies that I’ve worked at will split the event up among five or six different locations,” he said. “Hollister’s probably the only city that still has the central plaza that brings everyone together. That’s what I like because there’s a stronger community outlook.”
Out in the street, near a sheriff’s squad car, San Benito County Sheriff Darren Thompson said, “Events like this are great because they continues to nurture the important relationship between the police and the people. Many people overlook the fact that in the United States the police are the people and this is an event that we get to be reminded of that.”
Mike Paddy is the campus pastor of South Valley Community Church. He is also the father of a Hollister police officer who goes by the same name. Paddy said it scares him sometimes when he hears sirens because he knows his son might be responding to a dangerous situation, but said he’s proud that his son is serving his community.
“This is a great event for the city to support the law enforcement, emergency responders, those people who are on the job to save our lives,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see everybody come together for this event, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
Supervisor-elect Mark T. Medina was watching his son, Jake, attempt to throw bean bags through holes in a board trying to win a prize. Medina commented that it was good to see the number of people downtown supporting first responders.
Heatherly Takeuchi and her husband, Tim, are volunteers with the San Benito County Amateur Radio Association. She said she was pleased to see the number of people who came downtown.
“It’s a great event and it brings out a lot of kids who get to interact one-on-one with law enforcement personnel and people with other government agencies,” Takeuchi said, “so they don’t feel intimidated. These are people who can be their friends.”