- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Unbearable temperatures were not enough to keep residents around the region from heading outside last night in an annual show of unity against crime. But the heat did stop Digger the Recycling Worm.

Bonnie Peters, community manager at the Northwest Park Apartments in Takoma Park, usually dons a heavy outfit on National Night Out to become Digger, Montgomery County's recycling mascot.

"Not this year," she said, taking a break in her air-conditioned office while children took pony rides and ate hot dogs outside.

From early afternoon until dark, residents, police officers and politicians turned out for block parties, apartment-complex cookouts and candlelight walks.

Organizers planned for the stifling heat, setting up cooling areas with sprinklers and leaving out the sugary drinks.

"We have two canisters of water over there and two [garbage] cans full of juice and water," said Cpl. Tawanna Watkins of Prince George's County police, standing outside John Carroll Elementary School in Landover. "We didn't bring out much juice."

She added: "I prayed it wouldn't rain. It didn't rain. We just got the heat instead."

Last year, 32 million people from 9,500 communities across the country participated in National Night Out, an event sponsored by the Wynnewood, Pa.-based National Association of Town Watch.

The event, held the first Tuesday of every August, got its start in 1984. It attracted 2.5 million people that year in 400 communities nationwide.

Since then, National Night Out has grown into more than just a stand against criminals.

Children put on a karate demonstration in Gaithersburg this year, while Montgomery County police used the opportunity to recruit more officers in Takoma Park.

In the District, participants held a police-community softball game. U.S. Park Police demonstrated their horseback-riding skills in Alexandria neighborhoods and the Prince George's Board of Elections sent representatives to John Carroll Elementary to register voters.

Of course, as in years past, residents were urged to turn on their outdoor lights to highlight the need for year-round safety.

"This is the time for police officers, other city workers and residents to renew our commitment to work together," said D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who appeared at Miner Elementary School in Northeast, among other stops.

Montgomery County police Officer Fernando Rios said National Night Out breaks down barriers between residents and officers.

Folks discussed concerns ranging from drug activity to parking conditions.

Police shared information about new crime-fighting initiatives and demonstrated new equipment.

"It makes us seem more human, I guess," Officer Rios said. "The kids understand we're there to help them out. We're not the bad guys."

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