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Local block parties aimed at building community bonds

National Night Out aims to introduce community members to their police officers and strengthen bonds
by: Photo courtesy of Forest Grove Police Department Face-painting, music and an inflatable castle will draw crowds Tuesday to Forest Grove’s National Night Out festival, which police officers hope will repeat the success of last year’s festivities (above).

For the last three years, National Night Out in Forest Grove has been a rousing success.

Capt. Aaron Ashbaugh of the city police department hopes that this year's crime prevention and camaraderie event, set for Tuesday, Aug. 2, will have an even stronger impact.

'I always want to see real bonding happen between the community and the police,' said Ashbaugh, who's helping to organize Forest Grove's block party, which will be situated along College Way adjacent to Pacific University. 'I like to see folks meeting the officers, having a conversation and asking the questions they always wanted to ask.'

A family-oriented event carried out across the U.S. each August, National Night Out is an opportunity for police to present information about crime prevention to the public, introduce themselves, demonstrate their skills - and simply have a good time with people in their own city.

Forest Grove's party will include two live bands, free food and drinks and information about starting a Neighborhood Watch program, as well as an inflated "bouncy" slide and a scavenger hunt for the kids, Ashbaugh said.

"The point of it is to draw people's attention to crime prevention and make a big effort to get rid of crime in our neighborhoods," he noted. "There's a big emphasis on kids and child safety - and we'll have a lot of fun."

In 2010, between 1,200 and 1,500 people attended the event, and Ashbaugh's expecting an even bigger crowd this year. The festivities in town will run from 5 to 8 p.m. next Tuesday.

There'll be National Night Out gatherings in Banks and Cornelius during similar time frames.

In Cornelius, officers have been putting on their crime-prevention event for the past 10 years. Commander Bruce Schmid said "every year it has gotten bigger with more community involvement and support," including local businesses, community members and city staff.

"We have had family members from other communities assist with the event as well," Schmid said. "We hope as the city and community grows in the years to come, so will the support and participation."

The 2011 National Night Out event in Cornelius will be held at Harleman Park from 5:30 to 8 p.m. "Anyone who would like to come to the event is welcome and there is no cost to attend or participate," Schmid noted.

In Schmid's view, National Night Out is designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for (and participation in) local anti-crime efforts, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships and "send a message to criminals [that] neighborhoods are organized and fighting back against crime."

As the Banks event evolves, Schmid said, "so does participation." Next Tuesday's crowd can look forward to a LifeFlight helicopter landing at Harleman Park.

In past years, Schmid said, about 500 people have typically shown up, making National Night Out "a popular event for a city our size."

City employees and their families help out at the event along with 20 or so volunteers, noted Schmid. "Some of the officers' families are involved," he said. "Some officers bring their families to the event and other officers participate in the event."

Meanwhile, the city of Banks isn't going to be left out of the action next Tuesday evening.

Banks' National Night Out will run from 6 p.m. until dusk. The event will be held in Greenville City Park (on the eastern end of Trellis Way). There is no charge to attend, and everyone is invited, said City Manager Jim Hough.

"The Greenville City Park Management Committee is hosting the event and believes in the basic premise of the national event - take back the night in our own communities," Hough said. "We need to meet as a community for events that inform, educate and entertain."

In Banks, the third emanation of National Night Out will feature a variety of booths and displays. "The focus is on interacting with our neighbors," Hough said.

Special guests include representatives from the Washington County Sheriff's Office (including the Marine Patrol Deputy), Metro West Ambulance and firefighters from Banks Fire District No. 13, demonstrating their fire apparatus.

The NW Bicycle Safety Council will bring literature and bike helmets for children, Hough added "A number of organizations will be selling treats for fundraising," and a group from the Kyron Horman foundation will also have a booth in Banks.

As a neighborhood event in Banks, National Night Out has been "quite popular," according to Hough. "It's good for neighbors to meet with their neighbors socially and the people of Banks seem to enjoy socializing.," he said.

In past years as many as 200 people have attended, he said.

Hough estimated that about 100 volunteers are involved "in some form or other" in putting on the city's event. "The organization is quite decentralized and more resembles a flash mob, in its spontaneity, than a country-fair type of event," he said.

Since Banks doesn't have a police force - police services are provided by the Washington County Sheriff's Department under a contract funded by a voter-approved local option levy - the assigned deputy will be on duty and in attendance that evening, Hough said.

Banks city councilor Christy Greagor is the driving force behind the event, Hough added, and Bruce Buffington of the NW Bicycle Safety Council is also a regular attendee.