The Palo Alto Police Department, Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Services (OES) hosted the second annual National Night Out throughout Palo Alto Tuesday night. The nationwide campaign, which aims to improve community-police relations, was absent from Palo Alto for over a decade until last year, when the Palo Alto police department revived it.
More than 300 community members attended the main block party, held in front of the Palo Alto police headquarters at 275 Forest Ave. Representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department and OES were there to mingle with community members and answer questions. Officers served pizza and distributed an array of prizes such as police-themed mugs and frisbees; emergency supplies like blankets and whistles; and trading cards featuring city officials. Officers also visited 11 neighborhoods that were hosting their own National Night Out block parties.
Palo Alto Police Department Public Affairs Manager Janine De la Vega said that events like this are an important part of maintaining a positive relationship with the community.
"Normally, when you have interactions with police, either you're a victim of a crime or you're a suspect of a crime, or you're getting a traffic ticket or you're a witness to a crime, so it's events like these that really help connect us with our neighbors and the people that we serve," she said.
There were also several vehicles on display, including a fire truck and a police motorcycle for people to view and explore. Children were permitted to try on a pair of boots and a helmet that the firefighters use and climb inside the truck and ring the bell.
"I think it's really cool that the kids get to meet firefighters and police officers and that they get to see the vehicles and climb inside," said Nora Yagolnitser, who attended the event with her two children.
A 2-year-old German shepherd named Bohdan, who joined the K-9 unit last October from the Czech Republic, also joined the party. Police dogs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks, including tracking people, uncovering public safety hazards like bombs or drugs and monitoring medical conditions like low blood sugar and cancer, according to an officer.
Emergency services officers were also on-site to offer tours of the Mobile Emergency Operations Center, which can take on a wide variety of roles, from a 911 dispatch center to a way to provide disaster relief or protect visiting dignitaries.
Emergency Services Chief Ken Dueker said that National Night Out is beneficial for both communities and police officers.
"It's a chance for us to tell our side of the story and show people that we are human, and most of us are doing this job for good, pure reasons, and we want to help people," he said. It also gives officers, especially those who don't live in the community, a chance to connect with the people around them and interact with them outside a law enforcement setting.
"We're part of the community too," he said. "Because it's so expensive to live here, many of our people live far away. It doesn't mean they can't serve the community, it just means they may not know the community like we do, because we're from here."
Dilek Simtk, who brought her daughter to the event, echoed Dueker's sentiment, and said she wanted her daughter to understand that police and firefighters are there to help. "I want to make her familiar with them, not fear them," she said.
While many community members attended the event with their families, others said they stumbled upon it by accident.
"I didn't know how people heard about this, so I guess more advertisement and information around the community could be cool," said Katrina Quo, who lives nearby.