By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
Police departments in Killeen, Harker Heights and Copperas Cove hit the streets Tuesday night to party with the populace.
As part of the 28th annual National Night Out, police from all three departments and each city's respective fire department toured the towns.
They hit scores of block parties in an event designed to engender goodwill between communities and police departments, as well as encourage neighbors to get to know each other.
"It's about good will and better friendships in order to help police fight crime," said Killeen Police Department Chief Dennis Baldwin.
The National Association of Town Watch created National Night Out in 1984 to encourage communities to create area crime watches. More than 15,000 communities across the U.S. participate in the program.
For Pete Stanonik, National Night Out offered an opportunity to help bring together a neighborhood known for crime. He threw the first ever block party on Toledo Drive, where he owns a four-plex apartment building.
"Loma Vista has a lot of young folks, new people and transients that haven't introduced themselves to neighbors," Stanonik said. "I hope to make it a neighborhood."
Children laughed at a McGruff the Crime Dog mascot and noted that this was the first time many had come out to meet each other. "I feel better. I feel like we don't live in the hood," one attendee said.
Charles Hollinger, whose party has become somewhat famous among the law enforcement community for the cobbler his family serves, said he has seen his party on Illinois Avenue grow from a small event to a big cook-off. Though he no longer lives in the neighborhood, he comes back every year with a barbecue pit and a hope to continue the tradition.
This year he served 18 different kinds of cobbler, 30 pounds of sausage and three briskets.
"I like to see all the people," Hollinger said. "You go home and close your door and you turn out the lights and nobody knows you're there. This gets all the people out and together."
KPD spokeswoman Carroll Smith said getting neighbors together is an effective crime-fighting tool.
"The more you get to know your neighbors, the more you see what doesn't belong," Smith said.
In Harker Heights, a long line of police and fire department vehicles drove through city streets to visit participating neighborhoods and join in the numerous block parties taking place in town.
The caravan was headed by police Chief Mike Gentry, who personally visited some of the homes that hosted block parties for the event.
Gentry was joined by fellow city officials, including Mayor Mike Aycock, Library Director Lisa Youngblood, several members of the Harker Heights City Council and other civic leaders.
The procession visited neighborhoods on Indian Trail, Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Scarlet Lane, Mission Drive and several other streets.
"This is an opportunity for us to meet people we don't normally get to see, and to visit many different parts of the city," Gentry said.
He credited strong neighborhood watch programs with helping give Harker Heights one of the lowest crime rates in Bell County.
Officers and city officials were treated to barbecue, snow cones, cotton candy and more. Activities at the block parties included dunk tanks, bounce houses and raffle prizes.
About 15 officers from the Harker Heights Police Department were on hand at each party, including Clyde Hicks, a motor officer, who said the event was about strengthening the connection between police and residents.
"It shows the police department is supportive of partnership in the community," Hicks said.
Sonia Zumwalt, a resident of Mission Lane, said this is her fourth year participating in the National Night Out block parties.
"I think this is great because not only does it give you a chance to meet the neighbors on your block, you get to meet city officials as well," she said.
Copperas Cove had four National Night Out events on North 17th Street, Constitution Drive, Jase Drive and Kelso Drive.
The sizes and activities varied by the neighborhoods, with some gatherings as small as 15 people and others surpassing 40.
"One of the kids said 'this is my favorite time of year' to me," said Genevia Jennings, who organized the Kelso Drive block party. "The kids all look forward to it."
Staff writers Rebecca Rose and Audrey Spencer contributed to this report.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.