Second annual National Night Out ‘a success’

Residents and city officials celebrated the Island’s second annual National Night Out on Tuesday, Aug. 4. A total of 27 Mercer Island neighborhoods — twice as many as last year — participated in the nationwide crime prevention and preparedness event. From the South end to the Town Center, Island residents spent the warm summer evening outside with their neighbors, chatting over refreshments, potluck-style food and various games for the children. City officials, meanwhile, toured the participating neighborhoods, dropping in to meet Islanders personally.

“We had a really good turnout this year. The weather was great and there was great response from neighbors. For half of the neighborhoods, it was their first time; the other half did it last year,” said Mercer Island Emergency Preparedness Officer Jennifer Franklin.

John Ewald and his Boulevard Place neighbors commemorated their third annual Night Out block party last Tuesday. And, as in years past, the West Mercer Way neighborhood gathering had great turnout.

“It was very successful,” Ewald said. “We ended the evening with smiles, handshakes and the certain knowledge that there are good people around us to share support if we ever need their help in an emergency.”

And that, according to National Night Out promoters, is exactly what the event is about.

Initiated in 1982, the project is designed to: heighten crime and drug prevention awareness; generate support for local anticrime programs; strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.

On Mercer Island, where neighborhood crime is on the lower end of the statewide index, National Night Out is more about meeting neighbors and facilitating mutual trust.

“The focus was more to get neighbors to meet each other,” Franklin said. “It was really a fun, potluck type of deal.”

Even so, Mercer Island police and firefighters toured the neighborhoods with safety manuals on emergency preparedness, neighborhood watch programs and other salient topics. They also brought goodies for the younger participants — emergency whistles, child ID kits and MIPD stickers. Some children even got to climb aboard the city’s new fire engines, Franklin said, with red and orange lights flashing.

City Councilmembers Bruce Bassett, Dan Grausz and Mayor Jim Pearman, along with City Manager Rich Conrad and other city representatives, also visited several National Night Out neighborhoods. Pearman said that every block party he witnessed was well-attended and “a lot of fun.”

Tuesday’s National Night Out comes on the heels of a Seattle Magazine announcement that Mercer Island was rated “the number one suburban neighborhood for 2009,” out of 50 Seattle neighborhoods. Neighborhoods were ranked according to crime rates, parks, schools, commute distances and other factors. Mercer Island excelled as a quiet, residential community with “great schools, big trees and pretty views.” Other top neighborhoods include Redmond, Kenmore, Sammamish and Bellevue.

Yet crime on Mercer Island does exist. According to the Crime in Washington 2008 annual report, put together by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), Mercer Island has a rate of 19.3 crimes per 1,000 for all crime measured. This number is low when compared to neighboring cities such as Bellevue (37 crimes per 1,000) and Seattle (61 per 1,000). However, in the property crime category, there was an increase in incidents on Mercer Island from 2007 to 2008. In 2007, a total of 400 property crimes were reported. This number increased by 5.8 percent to 423 property crimes in 2008.

These statistics — although not necessarily alarming — are reason enough for Islanders to get together and build community, whether on National Night Out or any other evening of the year. It only takes one pro-active neighbor and a little bit of organization.

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