WARREN - While games and free food were enjoyed by many during the National Night Out, the true message was to have neighbors unite against crime and drugs.
National Night Out events were scheduled locally in Warren, Niles, Hubbard and New Middletown where safety forces, along with thousands of communities nationwide, come out of their homes against crime and drugs.
Residents were asked to lock their house doors, turn on outside lights and spend the evening in a local park or neighborhood with police, friends, family and neighbors.
Tribune Chronicle / Bob Coupland
Brothers Christian Baker, 4, and Dakota Baker, 5, of Warren, blow bubbles during the National Night Out at Hampshire House Apartments in Warren.
In Hubbard, Patrolman Greg Tarr said there was a bigger-than-expected turnout, with police and organizers having to get more food to feed those who attended the picnic in Harding Park.
Tarr said the main goal was to let children meet police officers in a different setting while also promoting prevention of crime and drugs.
"It allows people to see us in a more relaxed state, and if they get to know us, they're obviously going to help us in situations, and that's what we look for,'' Tarr said.
Hosted by the Hubbard Township Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 85 and Hubbard Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 132, the Hubbard event in its third year included a car show, softball game, music and food.
In Warren, more than 100 people attended the Night Out at the Hampshire House Apartment. Rose Bell, property manager, said this is the second year ABC Management hosted the local National Night Out.
''We wanted to bring all the families out for a night together. We want to show we have a safe neighborhood here and people can come here and be safe,'' Bell said.
Marsha Johnson, service coordinator at the apartments, said it is important that people feel safe when they go outside their neighborhoods. She said police officers stopped and drove by during the event.
She said while there is crime in Warren, by coming together the residents can show they are working together to make their neighborhoods safe.
New Middletown police Sgt. Ken Goist said, "As people say, you build it, they'll come. And that's basically how it's been, each year it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.''
He estimated close to 2,500 people lined Main Street for the parade and filled Welker Park for all the vendors and plenty of free food.
"For people who can't afford to go out and spend the time with their kids, to spend for food and everything, this is free, everything is free," Goist said.
While many local communities are marking their second of third years of hosting such an event, it began 29 years ago and has grown nationally. National Night Out is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch and has involved more than 15,000 communities from all 50 states and military bases around the world.
It was designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for and participation in local anti-crime efforts, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police community partnershps and send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
Safety forces attend the events and interact with residents discussing community safety.
Michalene Hughley, who attended both the Warren Night Out and another at the Royal Mall Apartments in Niles, said such festivals let people get to better know their neighbors.
''This event lets all the neighbors come together in a way that they otherwise would not typically get together. You really get to know everybody and can watch out for one another,'' Hughley said.
She said at the Niles Night Out, police spoke to residents about ways to keep homes safe and to watch out for one another.
''It's nice to get to meet new people and for the children to have something to do,'' said Lylian Rios, who was walking around at the Warren event.
Jennifer Woods of Warren said it is a good idea for neighbors to all get together and show support for each other.
''We can all get out for a night to be with one another and have some fun,'' Woods said.