Tuesday evening, Berkeley Police Department and other city officials joined residents in celebrating the 31st annual National Night Out, a series of community potlucks, parties and events.
The event, part of a nationwide effort to reduce crime and help communities prepare for natural disasters, involved a record 58 separate events hosted by residents and local organizations throughout the city. Berkeley was one of more than 16,000 communities to participate in the event, which aims to introduce neighbors to one another to foster community cohesion.
Kristin Leimkuhler, who participated in the National Night Out potluck on Delaware Street, said the event was a chance to introduce new neighbors to the rest of the community, including those who might have medical problems or special needs that others should be aware of in an emergency.
“We get a chance to get out and see each other face to face, instead of through email,” she said.
Sandy Miarecki, a UC Berkeley graduate student from the same neighborhood, said potluck attendees, many of whom work long hours, enjoyed “the social interaction — seeing just people talking, talking, talking (to) people they haven’t seen in a while.”
“We have some people who come into our neighborhood,” she said. “They don’t live here, but they love our parties and our people.”
Along with neighborhood get-togethers, the National Night Out included events hosted by local organizations such as the Berkeley Public Library and the Downtown Berkeley Association, which served cookies and offered origami instructions in the courtyard of Cafe Clem on Kittredge Street.
Dorothee Mitrani-Bell, the cafe’s owner and a board member of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said she preferred advertising her restaurants through these kinds of events rather than through more traditional advertisements such as periodicals.
“I’m really excited about being a part of urbanism, making this town both keep its spirit and move into the future,” she said.
Ann-Marie Hogan, the Berkeley city auditor, attended several National Night Out events. Hogan, a singer herself, said she enjoyed hearing live music played by potluck attendees and was glad to see residents she only gets to see once a year.
She added that she was surprised when people approached her with specific questions about municipal issues, including street repairs, which her office audits.
“Every place I’d go, people actually knew about the auditor’s office and had really nice things to say about what we do,” she said. “Maybe we’re getting a little more visible than we used to be.”
That, BPD Sgt. Joe Okies said, is one of the main purposes of the event — beyond just helping neighbors get acquainted, it allows citizens to ask questions and interact with city officials outside their usual work environment.
“Those community ties help to reduce and prevent crime because people have good working relationships, and they’re looking out for each other,” he said.