ALBANY — The city will participate in the annual National Night Out on Aug. 5, with neighborhoods all over the city closing down to traffic to encourage neighbors to meet neighbors as well as interact with the Albany Police Department. Similar gatherings will be held in Berkeley, El Cerrito and other area cities.
"We encourage neighbors to come out into the street and talk to each other and find out who lives where because it builds a stronger sense of trust," Albany community engagement specialist Karina Tindol said. "When neighbors know each other, neighborhoods are stronger."
This is the sixth year Albany has participated in the National Night Out and it is increasing in popularity. In 2009, 18 blocks were closed. This year, Tindol said Albany had to stop accepting street closures at 35 because the city doesn't have the capacity to close down any more streets. Two blocks had to be put on a waiting list.
Each block will get gifts from the police department -- past gifts have included kickballs, croquet sets and barbecue tongs. Kids will be given pinwheels, balsa gliders, coloring books and chalk, to draw on the sidewalk and street.
"What seems to work well for me is stuff they can take and use right then," Tindol said.
Each block has its own personality, according to Tindol, and tailors its event accordingly.
"Many blocks do potluck," she said. "Some blocks bring out precooked food or food from restaurants. For the most part, people bring out their grill. Some blocks do ice cream socials. Maybe one person brings toppings, or one person brings whipped cream, or nuts or sprinkles.
"Some people have live music. Sometimes there's basketball hoops or a pingpong table rolled out. Whatever people want to bring out to take advantage of the street."
The National Night Out was created on the East Coast in the 1984 in response to rising crime rates. It was also a precursor to community policing, a movement to reconnect police to the communities they serve.
"Nationally, in the '80s, there was increasing street crime and regular people felt there was nothing they could do and they wanted a way to empower themselves," Tindol said. "They began approaching police departments and police began to work with them."
Tindol said a list of street closures will be put on the city's website (www.albanyca.org).