Blue lights will flash in 33 Columbus communities Tuesday evening as locals welcome public safety officials to their neighborhoods during the 2013 National Night Out.
National Night Out is a nationwide event that provides an opportunity for residents to meet public safety officials and become more familiar with local law enforcement. The event also promotes community unity and provides a space for neighborhoods to organize against area crime.
Crime Prevention Sgt. Donald Bush said Columbus has participated in the event for the past 13 years. The city adopted the idea from the Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay near St. Marys. Columbus' Night Out started around 2000. Since then, it has grown from a one car event to a 100 car expedition which includes representation from the Columbus Police Department, the Muscogee Sheriff's Office, the Marshal's Office, the Fire Department, the Coroner's Office and others.
"We rode along with (the Naval Base) and thought it was a wonderful idea," Bush said. "It's been growing ever since then."
Although fellowship and partnership with public safety officials is a major component of National Night Out, Bush said the main focus is on helping neighborhoods come together to prevent crime in their communities.
"The idea is to make the neighborhood safer to work, to play and live," Bush said. "We've noticed if you have a neighborhood watch, crime goes down. If you have a vested interest in what's going on in your neighborhood, you're going to find out what's going on."
Although creating unity is the focal point of the celebration, Bush said law enforcement officials don't stop working with communities after the night ends.
Communities interested in creating a neighborhood watch can work closely with Crime Prevention and learn how to structure a stronger relationship between other area residents. Crime prevention will also send patrol officers and detectives assigned to an area to that location to meet with residents, in the hopes of building familiarity between the two groups.
Bush said neighborhoods that have become organized and have created a relationship with law enforcement have a better chance of either preventing crimes or solving existing cases.
"You break down that barrier between the people and the person in the patrol car. You get that trust factor," Bush said. "That's one of the purposes of the neighborhood watch."
Neighborhoods participating in National Night Out often provide refreshments or participate in a cook out for the visiting public safety officials.
Local activist Rev. Willie Phillips, whose family has participated in the event for several years, said his neighborhood near Lumpkin Court and Club Majestic will be hosting a barbecue for the convoys, as well as providing entertainment for area children. He said involving youth in the event is one way to encourage them to become involved in community organization early on.
"We're going to have barbecue, different things for the children and a cook out," Phillips said. "We're trying to rent some horses that the children can ride and some bouncy castles."
Phillips said he and his wife have found National Night Out to be an important factor in strengthening relationships between neighbors.
"It's important that the neighbors can come together and know what's going on in the neighborhood," Phillips said. "We've been together in the community and we know what's going on. We need to come together so that when something happens, we know what to do."
The event also sends a marked message to any potential criminals, Phillips said.
"When the criminals see police come through the community, they say 'Hey, we can't stay here because this community is strong,'" Phillips said.
Bush said neighborhoods that wish to participate in next year's National Night Out can contact Crime Prevention at 706 653 3173. Residents can also contact Crime Prevention if they want information on how to organize a neighborhood watch.
"We really believe in neighborhood watch," Bush said. "It not only helps the neighborhoods. It helps us keep the city safer."