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'Night Out' provides fun, heightens awareness

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Getting to know the community is an important part of being a police officer.

And on Aug. 1, members of the Clarksburg Police Department and other city agencies will have a chance to meet their neighbors in a relaxed setting.

For the third consecutive year, Clarksburg will take part in the National Night Out: America's Night Out Against Crime, from 6-9 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park.

The event is designed to raise awareness of crime and drug prevention and to give residents a chance to meet those who serve them, Clarksburg Police Chief John Walker said.

"If we keep our community close, we can solve more crimes and make this a better place to live," Walker said.

Those who visit the park will be treated to free miniature golf, free swimming and free pizza and hot dogs, Walker said. The band, Stepping Stones, also will perform.

The event is designed to heighten crime awareness, generate support for local anti-crime programs, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships and send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are fighting back, according to the National Night Out Web site.

And Clarksburg residents have sent a strong message the two years they have participated in the event. More than 1,000 people attended the first two years, said Officer Kim Kunkel, who is organizing the event.

In addition to free food and entertainment, city police, fire and emergency medical service personnel will be on hand to show off their wares, Kunkel said.

A canine unit officer will be there with his dog, the fire department will attend with their trucks, and EMS workers will show their equipment, she said.

But the event is not just about entertainment. It is also about police and other personnel getting to know the people they serve, Kunkel said.

"This gives people a chance to get to know their public servants," she said. "It gives them a chance to see them in a friendly light, not as the bad guys."

Last year, 9,420 communities from all 50 states took part in the National Night Out, which is sponsored by National Town Watch. More than 31 million people took part in the event in 1998, according to the Web site.

This year, Clarksburg City Council allotted some money to the department to help with the event, Walker said. Some of that money was used to purchase toys that will be given to children during the event.

Area businesses helped cover the other costs by donating items, or by providing supplies at reduced rates, Walker said. And the city Parks and Recreation Department provided the space.

After just two years of being involved with the event, some residents already look forward to it each year, Walker said.

"It's a big task to take on, but people enjoy it," Walker said.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404.

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