Local youngster Zylah Velasquez sprays a fire hose under supervision of Paul Salinas, a firefighter from Greenfield Fire Department, during National Night Out in Greenfield on Aug. 2. (Sean Roney)

SALINAS VALLEY — Law enforcement agencies across South Monterey County participated in the National Night Out on Aug. 2, part of a nationwide effort to get communities in touch with the officers who serve them. 

Local police and fire departments hosted community booths and offered entertainment and free food at area venues.

In Greenfield, there were a dozen booths set up and more than 100 community members who turned out for the event held at the Village Green Gazebo on the south end of El Camino Real. 

National Night Out also offered a chance for residents to talk with officers, asking whatever they most wanted to find out from police. Topics brought up ranged from officer backgrounds to how someone could become an officer.

According to Sgt. Jorge Gutierrez of Greenfield Police Department, community support for National Night Out is essential for the city, from donations of raffle prizes to the presence of other groups.

“The community sees our relationships with these organizations and we get to engage with community members,” Gutierrez said. “It’s an all-around great event.”

Gutierrez noted the outdoor location at Village Green was chosen for hosting booths as well as having a centralized area for residents from both sides of the city. He also explained local businesses adjacent to the event benefit from all the residents gathered in one area.

King City held its event between and around the police and fire department buildings, with dozens of booths inside the fire department building. An estimated 500 community members were in attendance.

“Historically, police departments have been very closed, but times have changed and agencies recognize that community engagement will reap rewards,” said King City Police Chief Keith Boyd. “One of the biggest challenges in policing with individuals is they’re uncomfortable with the cops. But if you create a comfortable environment for them to come and understand that the police department and fire department are places they can come to be safe, then it opens those doors.”

Soledad hosted its event at the Soledad Community Center, with 25 tables and more than 600 residents in attendance. The city also made use of the adjacent Rotary Park for a California Highway Patrol (CHP) helicopter landing.

Soledad Deputy Police Chief Fred Lombardi said this year’s attendance was so high that they had to restock some items, including the free food. He explained the indoor venue allowed for parents to keep their children in sight while visiting different booths, as well as not have to endure the wind outside.

The event also featured performances in the lineup, including cheer team routines and Aztec dancers, while local officers mingled with attendees.

“The officers were approachable and community engagement was their number one focus,” Lombardi said.

A CHP helicopter landing was planned for both Soledad and King City, but Boyd said an emergency in Big Sur caused the King City landing to be canceled. The Soledad landing was delayed, but community members were able to gather around the aircraft and meet with pilots after the landing.

Gonzales hosted its event at the police department, where an array of food, games and prizes were offered to more than 100 community members in attendance.

“Thanks to everyone who came out for National Night Out. We had a great turnout,” Gonzales Police Department wrote on social media Aug. 3. “A special thanks to the Salvation Army for the great food, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for demonstrating their amazing K-9 abilities and the Gonzales Youth Council for teaching pedestrian safety.”

All the South Monterey County departments hosted activities for children and awarded prizes, such as bike helmets, school supplies and even bikes and scooters.

Planning for National Night Out typically starts months before the event, but next in the lineup for area agencies is planning autumn and winter events, with each department having different plans. 

Next year’s National Night Out will be united in timing, typically the first Tuesday in August.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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