They were unlikely crime fighters: young children waving "No Drugs" signs, young couples pushing babies in strollers, and older men and women wearing matching Neighborhood Watch T-shirts. But they were typical of the thousands of Westside residents who turned out Tuesday night to express their commitment to fight crime.
In parks and neighborhoods throughout the Westside, residents and law enforcement authorities gathered for block parties, marches and rallies as part of the "National Night Out" anti-crime campaign sponsored annually by the U.S. Department of Justice. An estimated 26 million people nationwide participated in the event last year.
"This is a night where we can do something, not just talk," said Linda Lockwood, chairwoman for Hollywood National Night Out. "We the people can help take back parks and streets from criminals."
Several hundred people in Hollywood marched past alleged places of prostitution and drug dealing. Some of the littlest marchers, like 10-year-old Angelique Bermudez of the Ivar Hill section of Hollywood, chanted "crack kills" as they walked the mile-plus route, surrounded by police.
"Gangs make you scared and drugs make you crazy," said Bermudez, explaining why she and about 20 other children from Ivar Hill joined the rally at De Longpre Park.
The tone of each community's events reflected their concerns. In Hollywood, the attitude was clearly less a celebration of past accomplishments and more a signal to gang members that residents are tired of being frightened.
"This is in opposition to the way gangs run our streets," said Joe Shea, leader of the Ivar Hawks Neighborhood Watch.
Demonstrations of K-9 patrols and other police displays drew about 2,000 people to five Santa Monica parks, said Sgt. Gary Gallinot, Santa Monica police spokesman. The activities were aimed at getting neighbors to meet each other and providing information on how neighborhoods can be proactive in stopping crime, he said.
The city of West Hollywood hosted more than a dozen events, including marches and neighborhood get-togethers to promote Neighborhood Watch programs.
Culver City, Beverly Hills and Malibu did not participate in National Night Out. Officials in those cities said they either did not know about the event or decided not to participate.
"Right now the community is less focused on crime, and more on fire prevention and rebuilding" after the November wildfires, said sheriff's Deputy Joe Graffo in Malibu.