LATHROP – For years the National Night Out gatherings in the front yard of a certain member of the Lathrop City Council were legendary.
People who didn’t even live in that neighborhood would come over to socialize with friends and indulge in the barbecue that was being served up to all who stopped in at what could easily have been described as Lathrop’s biggest party.
On the surface it could have appeared as just an excuse to come and get some good food while laughing and joking with friends and neighbors. But underneath it’s exactly what people like Lathrop Police Services Lieutenant Chris Pehl like to see – people uniting under the umbrella of saying no to crime in their neighborhoods and in their community.
And whether it’s an orchestrated gathering or a few households meeting up on a neighbors lawn, the intent, Pehl says, is what matters.
“It’s a great opportunity for neighbors that normally would not get together or socialize to come out and get to know one another so that they can better monitor the happenings in their community,” Pehl said. “We talk about community policing, but that doesn’t stop with the police service. The public has to start forming their part of the ownership in the process, and this allows for that foundation to begin.”
National Night Out will take place this year on Tuesday, August 7.
The event, Pehl says, shows prospective criminals that not only is the community making a stand, but they’re also uniting with law enforcement by forging a relationship that goes beyond the typical “calls for service” interaction that the majority of the public has with deputies.
Putting a face to the name, he said, helps change the nature of that relationship and start to make people more comfortable with talking to peace officers whenever something comes up – the very essence of uniting to fight crime in a given community.
“It provides us with an open forum to go out and greet our community in a proactive way,” Pehl said. “It’s a chance to reach out and foster that community spirit in a team-like concept. It obviously gives a face to the name and allows us to spend more time talking to the parents and the children and getting to know people.
“That’s really what it’s all about – people getting to know people.”
And Lathrop Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos – known for his big community barbecue and his generous spirit on the night that the community unites – isn’t going to let his sworn duties interrupt what has become a tradition.
After hitting a few of the other National Night Out parties in town, Santos will eventually end up back at his home where he’ll man the grill and commence with the duties that he’s more than familiar with.
At the end of the day, he said, the idea of community is what it’s all about.
“We have to watch out for one another and make this a better place to live. We want to be able to come home – never having to worry about anything,” he said. “All that people want to do is just be able to live. They don’t want to have to worry about being taken advantage of by a criminal. This is an event that takes a stand against that.”
Those wishing to host sanctioned events can do so by visiting www.ci.lathrop.ca.us and downloading a National Night Out form. The first 15 parties will receive an award, and all will be eligible for the “Mayor’s Award” for best party.
For more information contact Deputy Andrea Lopez at (209) 585-5551.