While six youth played sports and an adventure game on three Xbox video game systems, at least 100 others sat in lawn chairs to hear a go-go band perform on stage outside Hillcrest Heights Community Center.
On the other side of Prince George’s County in Fairmount Heights, rain poured down Tuesday to force about six dozen people to congregate inside the town’s municipal building. Fortunately, Police Chief Stephen Watkins stayed dry underneath a stairway to grill hamburgers and hot dogs on National Night Out.
“Seeing these people here is why this town is great,” Watkins said. “Work is never done, but I couldn’t be at a better place.”
Prince George’s County joined 16,000 communities and 38 million people to participate in the 34th annual nationwide event designed for residents to relax with neighbors and also connect with law enforcement and emergency personnel.
According to the National Night Out website, the state of Texas will celebrate the annual event on the first Tuesday in October.
Matt Peskin, national project coordinator for the Wynnewood, Pennsylvania-based National Night Out, said the theme, “Keep Neighborhood Crime and Drugs A-Going Away Party,” symbolizes how residents hold festive activities such as block parties, parades and cookouts.
Peskin said at least 500 towns and cities participated for the first time this year.
“Two primary effects come out of the event: neighbors meet neighbors on their own street that they never met before,” Peskin said Tuesday. “It’s a great opportunity for local law enforcement to get together with neighbors to just to hang out and that builds trust.”
Thousands throughout the D.C. area devoured grilled hamburgers, children jumped moon bounces and conducted sports-related activities.
In D.C., Daynne Dixon, community outreach coordinator with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Sixth District, said at least 200 people planned to come out Kenilworth Park in Northeast. Some of the highlights included tug-of-war, flag football and potato sack races.
Members of the Fairfax County Police Department, firefighters and other emergency personnel planned to visit 200 local events in the Northern Virginia jurisdiction.
Back in Prince George’s County, dozens stayed dry inside the Fairmount Heights Municipal Building while munching on chicken wings, vegetables and bottled water. As they chatted amongst each other and with emergency personnel, they listened to a band tune their instruments to play some jazz music.
“To see all of these people here just puts a smile on my face, even in the rain says something,” said Daisy Capers, who has lived in Fairmount Heights for 25 years. “When I pulled up and saw the emergency personnel, it just excited me. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this many people in this place. This is a good night out.”
Hundreds swarmed to Hillcrest Heights and stood in line to receive Chik-fil-A chicken sandwiches, pose in designer sports cars and play a bean bag game with members of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police.
Gary Harried heard about Hillcrest Heights on the radio and decided to stop by after work.
“I was surprised to see these many people,” said Harried, an Uber driver who resides in Glen Burnie. “I was able to get something to eat. Some Rita’s. This is good.”
Maj. Brian Reilly with the Prince George’s Police Department smiled as he stared at the hundreds of people at Hillcrest Heights.
“This is bigger than what I expected,” he said. “It’s important for us to interact with people in a social setting and not just when they need the police to come out. The biggest thing is we want to let the community know the police department is one unit trying to make the community safe and better.”