Kids surfed down inflatable slides and slurped on snow cones as the heat beat down on Garden City Monday afternoon, taking advantage of a “night out” with their families, neighbors and, notably, local first responders.

Dozens of residents took to the streets, driveways and front yards Monday for National Night Out, the local celebration of a national event aimed at building community relationships with law enforcement and reducing crime across the country.

The event has been a tradition in Garden City for more than 20 years, but this year’s rendition was notable, said Senior Master Patrol Officer Robert Scrivner. With 16 block parties across the city, it is the largest National Night Out Garden City has ever seen.

“We get to interact with the community and they get to know their first responders. You can see, we’ve had officers playing soccer with the kids. It’s one of those that, if we get to visit, kids aren’t scared of the officers. We answer any questions they may have. It’s all about building relations and trust in the community,” Scrivner said.

For years, the event was held at Stevens Park in downtown Garden City, said GCPD Sgt. Lana Urteaga. But this year, parties were held throughout area neighborhoods, spanning the city’s east, west, north and south borders.

“About eight or nine years ago we decided to bring the party to the people. Instead of having people come to us, we decided to go out to meet everybody in their own environment where they’re comfortable and get to know them,” Urteaga said.

Officers arrived as a group to block parties at Garden Spot Rental Apartments and Redwood Apartments before spreading out to other parties across the city.

At Redwood and Garden Spot, kids ran in the sun as parents watched from the shade, mingling with Garden City police officers and firefighters while grabbing food and treats. Young kids threw balls that would sink an officer in a dunk tank or spoke to them when running between activities. In between, representatives from Parents as Teachers and the Finney County Public Library and the Garden City Commission met with officers, kids and families.

The event bore connections for several groups, said Birgit Lemke of Catholic Charities, which hosted the party at Garden Spot once run by the now-closed Neighborhood Learning Center. Attendees learned about services at Catholic Charities and other organizations, and interactions with officers strengthens relationships between the police and community members, Lemke said.

National Night Out holds similar community-wide block parties across the country aimed at strengthening community-police relationships and partnerships and getting residents involved in local anti-crime efforts.

In Garden City, Scrivner said he hoped guests at the parties would be encouraged to reduce crime in neighborhoods and have a better working relationship with first responders.

And so far, they have, said GCPD Sgt. Lana Urteaga. The chance to meet officers led to better reporting and better cooperation from locals, and it made people more comfortable with police in general, she said.

“It leads to trust, building that partnership … and that's what we’re really trying to do. We’re here to provide a service and get to know everyone out here and let them get to know us, be comfortable with us,” Urteaga said. “Don’t be afraid. We’re just like you.”

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