The origin of National Night Out dates back to 1984 as police-community partnerships were developed in an effort to better relate to the neighborhoods they patrol.
Southwest suburban communities have since joined in an effort to develop a better relationship between police and residents. National Night Out is always held the first Tuesday of August and recognized and celebrated in different ways in communities across the country.
Organizers in Hickory Hills, Palos Hills and Worth recognized National Night Out in similar but different ways Tuesday night.
The Jake Gill Band performed at Kasey Meadow Park, 8047 W. 91st Place, in Hickory Hills. The event was a celebration as free pop and popcorn were distributed to visitors to the park. Plenty of games and fun was available for kids at the Kasey Meadow Park playground.
“We have a lot of things going on,” said Jennifer Fullerton, the executive director of the Hickory Hills Park District. “We have the free pop and popcorn. Everyone has a good time. The kids have a good time.”
The Hickory Hills Police Department and the Roberts Park Fire Department Protection District were also on hand at the National Night Out, interacting with kids and adults. First Midwest Bank was the chief sponsor.
The first National Night Out involved over two millions neighbors across 400 communities in 23 states, according to organizers. The original events were more solemn gatherings as residents were encouraged to turn on their porch lights and come out to greet the police and meet their neighbors. Even if they remained in their homes, neighbors were encouraged to put their porch lights on as a sign of unity and camaraderie with the police and community.
But since the first events were held 33 years ago, National Night Out has become more festive. At Kasey Meadow Park, for instance, children were playing in the splash pad. Adults were taking a stroll along the new walking and jogging path around the park.
Southwest suburban communities, like cities and towns across the nation, began to host block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and safety demonstrations. The majority of these events include visits from emergency personnel. Many children have the opportunity to meet first responders and take tours of emergency vehicles.
National Night Out has taken place at the Town Square Park, 8500 W. 103rd St., in Palos Hills, the past couple of years. The event keeps getting bigger in that community. The staff from nearby Green Hills Library drops by to interact with kids. First responders also allow kids to tour their vehicles.
Bonnie Price, the longtime village clerk in Worth, said National Night Out activities are now in its fifth year for the village. Like other southwest suburban communities, the celebration drew a large crowd.
“This is like a festival atmosphere,” Price said. “The kids have a great time and they get to talk to the police. They get to know each other.”
The National Night Out event held at Peaks Park at 107th and Oak Park Avenue had a DJ, games, inflatables, balloons, face painting and ice cream for kids and adults. The North Palos Fire Protection District was also on hand. Hot dogs were also served.
Price said that the National Night Out in Worth has been positive for the community and the kids have responded well to it.
“Just the other day some kids came in asking if Officer (Mike) Cozzi (the school resource officer) was going to be at the National Night Out,” recalled Price. “When they heard he was, they were so excited and said they would be there. The kids want to go to talk to the police. That means it is working.”