Local officials, businesses and residents will walk Tuesday night from Riverside Park to surrounding neighborhoods in an effort to reduce crime.
The 23rd annual National Night Out Against Crime is designed to increase crime and drug prevention awareness, drum up local support for anti-crime programs, build up neighborhood morale and partnerships between sheriff's deputies and the community, and let criminals know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
On Tuesday, Aug. 1, from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. at Riverside Park on Old 41, local Bonita Springs Neighborhood Watch programs, the Lee County Sheriff's Office, and the city of Bonita Springs will host the neighborhood walk.
Many participants will begin to congregate at Riverside Park around 5 p.m., with a ceremony starting at 6 p.m. Mayor Jay Arend will be the master of ceremonies. Then, an approximate one-mile walk through the neighborhoods will begin. Participants will parade through surrounding neighborhoods, with food and refreshments provided.
"Every year that we've had it, I've participated in the walk," said Arend, who will again be cooking hot dogs.
Arend said the event has had a positive influence on the city. Sheriff's office statistics show that crime has dropped in Bonita Springs the last three years.
Lt. Morgan Bowden, of the Lee County Sheriff's Office Bonita Substation, said the event lets the Sheriff's Office visualize and verbalize with residents about their concerns.
"Anytime you have an open dialogue, it's always a win-win for everybody," Bowden said. He hopes to see residents from the surrounding neighborhoods jump in on the walk when they pass by, if they don't make it from the start.
The Sheriff's Office will be giving residents information on crime prevention, and letting them know how to report crimes or suspicious activity in their neighborhood or area of business. All of the contract deputies paid by the city of Bonita Springs will be at the event, Bowden said.
"It's going to be a hands on thing," Lt. Bowden said. "People can walk and converse."
The National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit, crime prevention organization, began in 1981 to develop, grow and maintain organized crime and drug prevention programs throughout the country. To date, the network has grown to more than 6,000 prevention organizations, according to its Web site, www.nationalnightout.org.
The group introduced National Night Out in 1984 by Executive Director Matt Peskin, who felt that a high-profile, high-impact type of crime prevention event was need nationally.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for communities nationwide to promote police-community partnerships, crime prevention, and neighborhood camaraderie," a quote on the site from Peskin said. "While the one night is certainly not an answer to crime, drugs and violence, National Night Out does represent the kind of spirit, energy and determination that is helping to make many neighborhoods safer places throughout the year. It is a night to celebrate crime prevention successes — and to expand and strengthen programs for the next 364 days."
According to Bowden, Riverside Park was the perfect spot for this year's National Night Out because it's an open area and is inviting to residents citywide. Many participating businesses and local organizations can set up displays and booths in the park to hand out information for residents. Some businesses will be giving out products, food, drinks, or information at the booths.
The event, Bowden said, is spearheaded by Mayor Arend.
"Anytime you talk about a quality of life issue in the city, it's absolutely directed by the mayor," Bowden said. "And we certainly support him 100 percent with his endeavors."