It has been an emotional and difficult year and a half for the city of Vallejo. What its citizens seemed to need was a night out on the town.
Community events for National Night Out took place Tuesday evening at around 20 locations across the city – many of them are block parties or meetings in large parking lots with Vallejo police and fire personnel as well as of Medic Ambulance. There was music, lots of food, and most importantly, lots of conversation with city officials including Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams and Department Head Michael Kihmm.
National Night Out “is about relationships and just connecting and being a part of the community and letting the community know that we care,” Williams said. “That’s what we get out of it: community engagement. It’s my energy, being able to connect and let them know that we are here and that we are here for the long haul.
The residents “are very grateful,” Williams continued. “This is their opportunity to tell us that they support us and that they want a safer Vallejo, just like us.”
“What we went through, missed it last year, and the fact that we can bring the neighborhood together is impressive,” Kihmm noted. “Bringing neighborhoods together at the last minute, I’m proud of the city of Vallejo. I am honored to be outside and to meet neighbors.
Fortunately, “no one is complaining,” Kihmm said, adding that he hoped the officers attending their first night “would have the chance to come face to face with these barrier-free people.”
National Night Out is an annual community building campaign that “promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make neighborhoods safer and more welcoming.”
The event, wiped out by the pandemic last year, seeks to improve relations between neighbors and law enforcement while bringing back a sense of community. In its center, it is an opportunity for the police and the neighbors to meet.
The Times-Herald visited six of the 19 locations listed on Tuesday evening. Here’s a look at what happened:
South Vallejo, Sixth Street, Emmanuel Apostolic Church
Deacon Dan Harding was delighted to see a few hundred people show up to church for National Night.
“So many people wanted to go out and help the community,” Harding said. “We’ve had so many salespeople calling in the last week or so, including a lot of young people. It’s amazing how well it works.
Members of the Vallejo Fire Department were also on hand, including Captain Morty Culverwell and Firefighter Kevin Reustle, who were helping the children learn to use the engine fire station. While a group of them held the hose, a large group of children laughed every time the hose sprayed water.
“This. This is just the point of this event,” Culverwell said, watching the children take turns using the hose.
Vendors included people wearing t-shirts labeled “Stronger Together” as well as “Lost Lives Matter”. Harding was happy to see not only members of the fire department show up, but also members of the police department, who have come under scrutiny in recent years for a number of reasons, including an alleged controversy over the folding of a badge as well as ‘a series of lawsuits for excessive force.
“You know, I’m glad they keep coming to these events, especially with all the tension lately,” Harding said. “We must always trust those connections and build those relationships. I think it’s more important than ever.
1700 block from Indiana Street
Jeanne Kilkenny-Turk remembers the evening before National Night when the 1700 block of Indiana Street simply hosted block parties, even to celebrate a new sidewalk.
“Fifteen years ago, this prompted the VPD to shut us down. Now they’re here to eat a hot dog, ”Kilkenny-Turk said, with a smile.
The official co-host along with her neighbor Mel Orpilla, Kilkenny-Turk praised the event and the city as she held a bottle of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2018.
“It’s a great neighborhood,” she says. “I like to see everyone.”
The most important message?
“We are all humans,” Kihmm said.
For Agent Kenny Trimble, visiting 10 National Night Out sites on his motorcycle is “mingling with the people, with the citizens. I love it. It’s a great excuse to get together and celebrate a lot of good.
Glen Cove Lodge
The residents and workers of the Lodge of Glen Cove were eager to speak with members of Medic Ambulance, VPD and VFD and to develop their relationship and see how they could grow together. This included Glen Cove Resident Development Manager Cathy Vilarreal, who said she had revived the new fire hall recently reopened in nearby Glen Cove.
During the event at Glen Cove, the children were able to sit in the medical ambulance van and turn on the lights. Two-year-old Ethan Harkins had fun blowing bubbles and wearing a plastic firefighter’s helmet handed out by members of VFD.
“I loved it when a little girl came up to me in the van and told me she wanted to be a firefighter,” said Jessica Robins, an EMT employee. “It was good because we can do this job as well as a man and I love showing the children the many opportunities and paths they all have. But yeah, when I see their faces when they turn on the lights , I imagine them in 10 years maybe doing it in a real situation It’s a lot of fun to attend these events, but it’s also nice to know that the community is supporting us.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Richard Wanzie has said events like National Night Out are a way to help the police department connect with the city after a year of controversy and negative attention on officers.
“Absolutely, it starts at events like this – that’s why National Night Out is so important across the country,” Wanzie said. “We need to make sure we maintain these strong bonds with the people we serve. It’s a big topic these days, but it’s very rare to see police misconduct. The only thing is when it happens, it’s across the country in the headlines. We just need to remind them that their police department is working hard to reconnect and make sure we stay in touch with the citizens of Vallejo. “
500 blocks from Whitecliff Drive
Joe Bates understands the importance of knowing your neighbors. The retired employee from the town of Vallejo was on vacation and found out via security cameras that a garden plant was doomed if he was unable to notify a neighbor.
Plant saved. Grateful Bates.
“We really care about each other,” Bates said, adding that National Night Out “is how we get to know everyone. It’s good for all the neighbors to go out and meet. new neighbors from Napa, people here from Berkeley, San Francisco, we know everyone and the house they live in. That’s a big help.
National Night Out host Steph Bunch was delighted to greet neighbors outside her house. Sitting behind a table of “hot dogs and all the fixins”, Bunch volunteered to be one of 22 Vallejo locations this year “because I love our neighbors and I love bringing people together”.
A Vallejoan and Town of Fairfield employee for five years, Bunch said 34 households were invited to the Whitecliff festivities.
She was pretty excited – OK, maybe on the verge of drooling – welcoming several firefighters from Station # 23.
“It’s great because they’re so beautiful,” Bunch said.
Meadowood Hood, Sunnyglen Drive
J. Lacey has been hosting National Night Out events for years, but noticed the turnout this year was a bit lower, at around 30 people.
“I think it could be due to COVID,” Lacey said. “I did some things differently this year. We didn’t have any shared food, I just went out and had a bunch of individual Subway sandwiches, but we still have plenty for everyone.
The block hosted a parade full of children for visiting members of the VFD, VPD and medical staff. A DJ also played non-stop music while the kids cycled through the streets and played basketball. The children were also happy to receive a sticker of a police badge from Kihmm, who visited several places overnight.
“I think the police presence is great for community involvement and transparency,” Lacey said. “It’s important that they show up for the kids because that’s where this relationship should start, when they’re still kids.”
1200 block from Marin Street, St. Vinnie Community Garden
David Hegerty was not thrilled when the house he was renting in San Francisco sold after 32 years. However, he was delighted to buy a house in Vallejo and attend his first national night.
“I think it’s a great idea and a great way to meet the neighbors,” he said.
It was a lively gathering on the busy street. Co-coordinator Mike Huckins was relieved once the block was closed to traffic “and people were convinced they couldn’t drive 40 mph here”.
Vallejo musician Wayne De La Cruz offered his keyboard skills, attracting singer and friend Pamela Rose from San Francisco.
“I think it’s fantastic to go out at night, especially where the sun is nice and hot,” said Rose.
It was all about music for his friend Ray-Prince.
“I think I want to come back next year,” he said.