The Mesa del Mar neighborhood threw a party Tuesday and the cops showed up--not to write citations and issue warnings, but to hand out hot dogs and prizes.
The event in Costa Mesa was one of thousands held to observe National Night Out, a 17-year-old crime-fighting program. Anaheim and Newport Beach were among other cities that sponsored an estimated 9,700 gatherings this year.
At Mesa del Mar, a section of El Camino Street was closed to traffic and open for neighbors to enjoy music, food and soft drinks, and an inflatable "bounce house" for the children.
Matt Peskin, director of the National Assn. of Town Watch, which coordinates the event from its offices in Wynnewood, Pa., said the idea is "to put together a high-profile, high-impact crime prevention event that would involve entire communities. The concept was to put on your front light and sit on your porch for a couple of hours. If everybody in the country put on their light and sat on their porch, we felt there would be no crime."
The event, which began in 1984 with 400 communities in 23 states, is now observed all 50 states, and porch-sitting has evolved into block parties hosted by local police.
Annette Manley, a police department employee who coordinated this year's events in Costa Mesa, said, "Our goal is to show residents that we are willing to work with them on a day-to-day basis. We want this to be an ongoing, positive relationship in keeping crime out of our city and increasing the quality of life. We just want them to have a great time and, hopefully, leave with a positive feeling toward the police department."
Though the emphasis was on the positive, organizers offered safety guidelines.
"We suggest that they lock their doors and turn on their outside lights," Manley said. "The theme, after all, is giving crime a going-away party."
Ashley Anaya, 26, said she thought the block party was a great way to introduce law-enforcement officers in a way that would encourage children to see them as friends.