By ERIK CHALHOUB, Managing Editor
I was invited to sit in on a ride-along with Watsonville Police Capt. Michael McKinley and City Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez as they visited a number of National Night Out celebrations throughout the city Tuesday.
It was here where I learned how to become a police officer. Speaking to a group of children at the Police Activities League location on Davis Avenue, McKinley said there are three things you have to accomplish in order to be a cop:
1. Listen to your mom.
2. Do good in school.
3. Stay out of trouble.
I know I can check off the second item, and I think I’ve done alright with the first, but the third is tricky. I do work at a newspaper, after all.
Being a part of the ride-along gave me a different perspective on National Night Out, an event I’ve covered for the Register-Pajaronian a couple of times over the years. Although I had to leave early, it was a great experience to see how much the Watsonville community respects its police department and city leaders.
Our first stop of the afternoon was Portola Heights on Freedom Boulevard. The event had just barely started, but people were already trickling in, including two young children with their mother. After greeting McKinley and Coffman-Gomez, each member of the family received police badge stickers from McKinley. As I found out, the stickers are very popular among the children in Watsonville, and I’m sure McKinley ran out long before the night was over.
The event was also an opportunity for Coffman-Gomez to hand out flyers announcing the Aug. 25 family movie night of “Pete’s Dragon” at Flodberg Park, 219 Alvarado St.
After visiting the Vista Verde Apartments on Stewart Avenue, where Tacos El Apa were cooking up some appetizing tacos, and a quick visit to the Police Activities League, our next two stops were a bust, as the Vermont Street party had not yet started, and the Northgate Apartments were not participating in National Night Out this year.
The next stop (the last for me) was First United Methodist Church, where a dance performance had just gotten underway. While pulling into the parking lot, McKinley told us about his early days as an officer, where the neighborhoods around the church had been entrenched in gang crime, and the nearby Flodberg Park attracted all sorts of criminal activity.
But efforts from First United Methodist Church, such as the establishment of a community garden and a Neighborhood Watch group, have cleaned up the area and caused a major reduction in crime, he said.
This is one of the main goals of National Night Out: to increase crime and drug prevention awareness.
More than 37 million people across the United States were expected to participate in a National Night Out event, which is now in its 34th year. Watsonville has been participating for the past 19 years.
In a way, the fact that there needs to be a national event to encourage people to get out and meet their neighbors and law enforcement representatives is a sad commentary on the state of the country. It’s difficult to pinpoint in history when the culture of tight-knit neighborhoods on every street corner went awry.
Regardless, National Night Out is a great opportunity for the community to know that police officers are human too, and share the same thoughts and concerns. While there may be other places in the country where police are mistrusted, that is certainly not the case in Watsonville.
Here, the police and the community are one and the same. Anyone who doubts that needs to attend a National Night Out party.
Erik Chalhoub can be reached at 761-7353 or [email protected]