K-9 Officer Gabrielle Guerra and Corporal Randy Stefek greet residents Jemarcus Laive, 1, and Quavonte West, 11, at a block party on Veterens Memorial Boulevard during National Night Out on Tuesday in Harker Heights.

Event encourages neighborhood, law enforcement partnership

By Rebecca Rose

Harker Heights Herald

In the early hours of Tuesday evening, a memorable noise rang out in the streets of Harker Heights — the sound of police sirens, followed by a long line of vehicles, flashing the familiar blue and red police lights most motorists normally dread seeing.

But Tuesday night, these lights weren’t pulling anyone over or writing tickets.

The procession of police and fire department vehicles were part of the city’s National Night Out celebrations, designed to encourage police partnerships with local neighborhoods. Sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, the event helps generate support for local anti-crime and drug prevention efforts. Communities across the country celebrate National Night Out by hosting police-supported block parties as a way for residents to connect with police officials.

In Harker Heights, a procession of at least 15 cars, including civilian supporters, drove through the city on Tuesday to visit the numerous block parties. The procession visited neighborhoods on Indian Trail, Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Scarlet Lane and Mission Drive.

The caravan was headed by police Chief Mike Gentry.

“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,” he said. He credited strong neighborhood watch programs with helping give Harker Heights one of the lowest crime rates in Bell County.

Gentry was joined by fellow city officials, including Mayor Mike Aycock, library director Lisa Youngblood, public works director Mark Hyde, councilmen Spencer Smith and John Reider and other civic leaders.

As the caravan stopped at each home, Aycock and Gentry spoke to the gathered crowds, personally thanking residents for working to put the block parties together.

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.

The caravan also brought a face familiar to children. MacGruff the Crime Dog greeted young party-goers, pausing to give hugs and take pictures.

Youngblood presented certificates from the city to each homeowner who hosted a gathering, including Jan Addair, who threw a party for her block on Quail Ridge.

“I love my neighborhood,” said Addair, who has lived in Harker Heights since January. “You can’t beat Central Texas for camaraderie and support of neighbors.”

Sonia Zumwalt, a Mission Lane resident, 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.

About 15 officers from the Harker Heights police department were on hand at each party, including motor officer Clyde Hicks, 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.

Matthew Westman, 7, worked with his mother, Ann, to prepare for their block party on Scarlet Lane.

“(The police) support us,” he said, explaining why it was important to host a community event with the police department. “If they see someone doing something bad, they get them.”