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Community, Police Mark National Night Out
Lights flashing, sirens blaring, a line of police patrol cars, motorcycles, a fire truck and other vehicles drove slowly through Riverbank the evening of Aug. 2 to the delight of the law-abiding and the horror of would-be criminals.

Members of emergency services and law enforcement agencies, local government officials, and local businesses stopped at "block parties" along the way to chat, eat and hang out with civic groups, neighborhood organizations and citizens from throughout the city.

National Night Out, as the annual, countrywide celebration is called, aims at improving trust and cooperation between citizens and the police in fighting crime and strengthening neighborhood spirit to deter everything from drugs to vandalism.

In Riverbank, motorcycle officers Gary Vernon and Donny Worsham led separate groups of vehicles that stopped first at the downtown Karate for Kids business at Santa Fe and Fourth Street. They then split up, one taking the east side of town and the other the west side for several stops, before reuniting at Allegiance Lane off Homewood Way in the southwest.

SpecOps Live Play, whose office is in Riverbank, sent along a trailer with their laser tag game, then issued mock guns to youngsters and set up their course of yellow and black inflatable obstacles at each stop.

Each "block party" featured some different entertainment. Outside Karate for Kids, neighborhood children got the chance to scramble all over a fire truck and test horns, lights and other equipment on the police department's high speed Charger pursuit vehicle, Deputy Vernon's motorcycle and the fire truck.

At the Community Garden opposite California Avenue School, participants were served hot dogs, watermelon and other tasty delights.

Citizen Armando Reyes, at his home on Kentucky Street, fired up a huge barbecue and served meals of beef, chicken, rice and salad at several rows of tables set in the driveway. While caravan participants had only a few minutes to eat before moving on to the next site, hordes of neighbors came over to help finish the spread, he said later, estimating there were more than 100 people.

"We needed something like this. I know this is not the safest community. There are a lot of gangs here. We have no say, no control," said five-year resident Reyes, in explaining why he went to considerable trouble and expense to put on a block party.

"I want to be safer and to know my neighbors," he added. "Although I live in a largely Hispanic neighborhood, I don't really know many people. I care for my community and want it to become better. I'm bilingual. That's a plus for me. I can communicate. We need some things to change, someone to step up to the plate and effect change. I can do that."

Reyes added there is a move afoot to set up a Neighborhood Watch group on Kentucky Avenue. He has talked with Police Community Services Officer (CSO) Gina Reno about holding a first meeting on Thursday, Aug. 18, at his home.

Whirling a rope in circles, lasso expert Librado Ulloa entertained the crowd once the procession reached Creekbend Court.

Residents of Sulky Court at the next stop provided a bounce house for the children and a dunk tank. Allegiance Lane neighbors at the end of the tour had erected an inflatable water slide and gathered some 40 to 50 people.

Along the route, Police Chief Bill Pooley accompanied by his officers, handed out sticker facsimiles of Sheriff Department badges. His CSO Reno, who planned most of the event, was distributing stuffed animals to the children.

Volunteers from the Sheriff's Team of Active Retired Seniors (STARS) and representatives of Target and Home Depot stores in the Crossroads Shopping Center also came along and handed out gifts to the children.

"We're here to give back a little," said the Target group leader Hector Ruiz. "We get such a lot of help and cooperation from the Sheriff's Department whenever we need it. Both the store managers are here tonight."