The early August tradition of neighborhood block parties continues to grow in the south metro area, with National Night Out or Night to Unite events set in virtually every city next Tuesday.
Both events feature neighborhood social gatherings focused on crime prevention and interaction with city representatives. And as the number of parties grows, cities are finding new ways to promote the events and get people involved.
This year, the Shakopee Police Department will use its Twitter feed (@ShakopeePD) and Facebook account (facebook.com/shakopeePD) to promote a photo contest for its Night to Unite celebration. Photos of this year’s event that prove most popular on social media will be posted on the city’s website and used in a newsletter about next year’s Night to Unite event.
Shakopee’s Night to Unite celebration is growing, from 81 parties registered last year to 97 registered this year. The city even decided to create a position this year to help provide consistency in its crime prevention efforts.
“The reason we get involved and promote this event so strongly is we want neighbors to get back out there and get to know their neighbors,” said Janna Grassel, whom Shakopee hired for the new crime prevention specialist position. “You don’t know what’s weird for your neighborhood if you don’t know what’s normal for your neighborhood.”
Meanwhile, Eagan is using technology to plug information from online National Night Out party registrations into data points on a party location map on its website. Clicking on a point brings up a box with an address for the party, a start time and an end time, and an estimated number of people expected to attend.
“We try to make it easy for the citizens to participate,” Eagan Police Chief James McDonald said.
The Dakota County Sheriff’s Office also provides partygoers with a view of the old-time tools of the law-enforcement trade by bringing police horses to some locations.
“It’s not every day the good people of Eagan see a horse riding through their neighborhood,” McDonald said.
Many parties consist of a simple potluck or root-beer-float gathering, while others are larger and have a more modern twist.
“I’ve seen parties that encompass blocks, and people bring in garage bands where they pull out on the street and their neighborhoods are just rocking,” McDonald said. “It’s a festive atmosphere, and it’s really neat to see, because I think in the end you’re promoting neighbors looking out for neighbors.”
His city has experienced rapid growth in the number of National Night Out parties. Twenty neighborhood parties formed in 1998 when Eagan joined the nationwide event. Last year, that number had jumped to 164.
The Eagan Citizens Crime Prevention Association has helped promote its popularity by donating Twins tickets for party raffles. A promotional raffle for a suite to a Twins game helped prompt Eagan residents to donate 18 tons of food for the Eagan Resource Center on National Night Out in 2010.
Lakeville also collects food for the Eagan Resource Center.
The Rosemount Family Resource Center is a major participant in Night to Unite, hosting a large party and benefiting from food donations.
Rosemount intends to focus on providing information about 911 and elder abuse, and it also plans to display its SWAT team’s Bearcat armored vehicle.
“It’s a whole-city effort,” said Beth Richtsmeier, a community resource officer for Rosemount. “Kids love jumping around in police cars or fire trucks.”
The events boil down to neighbors gathering together to converse face-to-face — one of the oldest ways to prevent crime, said Kevin O’Neill, Lakeville’s community outreach and crime prevention coordinator.
“It’s a chance for people to proverbially get their porch lights on, get outside and get to know one another,” he said.
Seth Rowe is a Twin Cities freelance writer.