A chorus of laughing children playing with handcuffs and prodding law enforcement officers for attention signaled the National Night Out extravaganza, a constellation of block parties with a twofold purpose: to ingratiate people with their neighbors and local first responders.

Garden City Police Capt. Randy Ralston said a total of eight block party locations in Garden City continued the annual NNO tradition that has locally persisted for about 22 years.

Among those communities was the Garden Spot Rental Apartments complex in the 300 block of West Mary Street, a neighborhood that houses a healthy portion of Garden City’s immigrant and refugee population.

A gaggle of laughing children pestered an amenable Lt. Steve Martinez of the Finney County Sheriff’s Office for his attention, trying on his handcuffs and insinuating they were fake.

Hamse Hassan, 11, was sure they weren’t real, and even after fastening them around his wrists, he returned to inquire about their authenticity. Martinez unlocked the handcuffs, at which point Hassan concluded that, “They’re easy to take off. You just need something.”

The evening’s events are part of a global campaign that has been running for 34 years. The event, sponsored nationally by the National Association of Town Watch and locally by the GCPD, was slated in late June to include more than 16,500 communities in all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases around the world.

The GCPD reported in a release issued in late June that more than 38.5 million people were expected to participate in Tuesday’s event, titled “America’s Night Out Against Crime.”

With cookouts, block parties, activities and visits from first responders as incentives, the evening’s festivities are intended to tighten the fabric of neighborhood communities and build their rapport with law enforcement.

Martinez is emblematic of the success in that effort. Kids of all colors and creeds swarmed him during his visit, vying for his attention. He attributes his popularity with the youngsters to his role as a crime prevention officer tasked with visiting different schools over the course of the academic year to accustom youth to the presence of a law enforcement officer in times that don’t warrant actual enforcement of the law.

“That’s my No. 1 deal,” Martinez said. “I try to preach to the kids that law enforcement officers are the good guys.

“It’s just good to show them that we’re regular people, too. Being in law enforcement is just our job. We’re here to help and we want people, especially the kids, not to be afraid of law enforcement.”

Martinez says he’s been on the job for 23 years and has been a fixture in the NNO program since he began working for the sheriff’s office. He said the main goal of the program is for neighbors to get to know each other so that outside elements of their community are more easily identifiable.

Diane Garvey, assistant director of LiveWell Finney County, helped put on the event at the Garden Spot Rental Apartments, complete with snow cones and an inflatable party place. Garvey said LiveWell collaborates every year with the GCPD, as well as other area organizations such as Genesis Family Health, Compass Behavioral Health, the Finney County Public Library, United Health Care and Family Crisis Services, among others.

LiveWell works with the immigrant community out of a learning center they set up across the street from the apartment complex, and Garvey said the organization routinely partners with the GCPD on trust-building initiatives that include monthly visits to the neighborhood for the same kind of interactions highlighted during NNO.

“They just interact and start to build trust because a lot of the people that live in this neighborhood don’t have a lot of trust for law enforcement where they come from,” Garvey said, noting that the community is “really diverse” with large demographic segments of Somali and Burmese residents.

Ceralise Vertilus, a resident in the complex, has lived in Garden City for two years after emigrating from Haiti. Vertilus said she likes Garden City and is fortunate to be here with her four children.

Daola Ali Warsame, who has lived in Garden City for nine years, emigrated from Somalia.

“It’s a good party today,” he said. “We come together. New faces. Different people come together here today. We like it.”

Kimberly Ojeda, executive assistant at the Garden City Housing Authority, organized the block party at the Redwood Apartments in the 1300 block of Summit Street.

Ojeda is also a resident of the community at the Redwood Apartments and said the event has been a success in the community in years past. She said keeping the festivities close to the neighborhood ensures the event’s success and gives people an opportunity to get to know each other.

“I’ve seen some familiar faces here and some not so familiar, but I think it’s important for us all to get to know each other this way,” Ojeda said. “I just encourage everyone to come out in future years and get to know your neighbor."

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com