With a police helicopter circling above in the sky, a convoy of law enforcement vehicles with flashing lights pulled into the Michael Fluellen Recreation Center on Eighth Street for the 35th National Night out celebration in Columbus.
Lewis Kemp, one of the leaders of Carver Heights Against Drugs, said he was up at 3 a.m. Tuesday preparing for the convoy that started at 6 p.m. from the Columbus Civic Center and thousands of communities across the nation. Police in Phenix City were on the streets with residents living near the police department’s south and north precinct.
The event is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch in the United States and Canada, with 38 million residents in 2016 taking part in 16,000 communities across the United States.
Kemp, who has been with CAD for more than 20 years, said volunteers tried to get rid of the drugs and crime that plagued the neighborhood. “We are still involved,” he said. “We tried to get rid of all the drugs out and keep the neighborhood safe. That is the biggest thing right now.”
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It was a sad year for the group with the loss of its former president David Lockett, who died recently after an extended illness. “It’s lonely,” said Kemp, who manned the bullhorn during marches in the neighborhood. “It’s rough but he taught me to keep it going, keep fighting.”
Angela Lockett, wife of former leader of CAD, said he had enough footsteps to see things go on and still go on today. “My thoughts are with him,” she said.
Officer from local law enforcement agencies were treated to barbecue and chicken dinners at the center.
A couple of miles away, Sharon Pierce greeted officers with free ice cream, drinks and other treats at the Weracoba/St. Elmo neighborhood, also known as the Park District at 1817 Garrard St.
She’s thankful the area had a good year keeping down crime. “Over the last year, remarkably, we have had very light year,” she said. “I think maybe we had one or two break-ins in the whole neighborhood. We’ve had a pretty good year. Everybody in neighborhood sort of know each other. We are looking out the window and stuff like that.”
Pierce said the neighborhood with about 400 houses has about 500 to 600 people. “It’s always nice to meet the law enforcement,” she said.
In the 500 block of Broadway in the Columbus Historic District, police pulled into the block with a band playing jazz and children playing on a water slide. There was also plenty of grilled hamburgers and hotdogs.
LeAnn Cline said the event gives residents a chance to come out and get to meet other neighbors. It also gives longtime residents a chance to enjoy the band, get to meet law enforcement and show support to officers who help keep the neighborhood safe.
“We cover 25 blocks and we are very fortunate because neighborhood watches are very beneficial from what we have seen over the last four years,” she said. “The root of it is communication. Sometimes, neighbors don’t know neighbors. “
Being apart of the Neighborhood Watch, people have to learn to trust one another and watch out for neighbors. “If something doesn’t look right, call the police,” she said. “It creates a community that’s safe.”
Columbus Police Maj. J.D. Hawk said the event helps people to know there is hope for their neighborhoods. “They can fight crime and we as law enforcement in the community can make the city a better place,” he said.