WATSONVILLE — Across Watsonville, throughout Santa Cruz County and around the U.S., people came out Tuesday to meet their neighbors, have dinner, play games and simply enjoy the late summer evening.
The gatherings were part of National Night Out Against Crime, an event designed to unite residents and strengthen ties between them and their local police departments.
In Watsonville Plaza, one of 17 neighborhoods participating in the event, Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia was watching a competition for kids happening on a stage. She said she was visiting as many events as she could.
For Garcia, the annual event came with sad undertones, coming as it did after multiple mass shootings that occurred in public spaces recently.
“People are not feeling safe,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to come out in the community and feel safe. They need to know that we are a part of their family.”
California Highway Patrol Officer Sam Courtney said the event is a chance for police officers and other officials to interact with the public in a non-law enforcement capacity.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Maria Hernandez came to the event after work with her 2-year-old son and her husband. She said that she wanted to come after hearing about the recent shootings to be a part of her community.
“It’s important that our kids grow up knowing they are safe,” she said.
Watsonville Police Officer Brian Fulgoni (left) and his K9 partner Ranger meet Gustavo and Fernanda Murguia as Sgt. Jarrod Pisturino watches. (Todd Guild/Register-Pajaronian)
There was also a lot going on across town at the First United Methodist Church. The back parking lot of the church and a section of Flodberg Park were abuzz with activity—from a music and dance performance by the Watsonville Music Program to a petting zoo that offered children pony rides.
Nadia Martinez brought her three kids, who were participants in the Watsonville Music Program. It was their first time experiencing National Night Out.
“It’s an amazing event,” Martinez said. “We’re so happy to be here.”
Martinez at one point encouraged her son to go up and meet Watsonville Police Chief David Honda. “I told him it was time to meet the Big Chief,” she said to Honda, and thanked him for being involved.
As everyone lined up to enjoy a barbecue meal prepared by volunteers at the church, Honda explained what National Night Out meant to him.
“Especially now… in light of all the recent shootings in Gilroy, Dayton and El Paso, it’s even more important for communities to come together and support each other,” he said.
The petting zoo, courtesy Special Event Children’s Entertainment, had children interacting with and feeding chickens, small goats and rabbits. The main draw, however, was a pony named Oreo Cookie. Children lined up for their chance to take a ride on the black-and-white steed.
Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson, shared her thoughts on the annual event.
“We love doing it every year,” she said. “We love to meet, feed and spend time with the community around our church in a safe way. Some of these kids have never met local law enforcement before this. It’s an opportunity for them to connect.”
Numerous deputies from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office also joined in the fun at various sites around the county, including Watsonville.