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These parties combat crime
58 block-watch groups in Columbus to unite for National Night Out
Monday,  August 4, 2008 3:05 AM
Some communities are sending a message to criminals: "We're watching."

On Tuesday, 58 Columbus block-watch groups are to participate in National Night Out, a nationwide event designed to raise awareness about crime prevention and build relationships among neighbors. The groups will host parties throughout the city, generally from 6 to 9 p.m.

The event in Columbus started 23 years ago by encouraging people to sit on their porches from 8 to 9 p.m. and leave their lights on, but over the years it has expanded to include cookouts, games and live music.

Lisa Boggs, who is organizing the S. Ogden Avenue event with her son Justin, said COSI Columbus and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will be part of the festivities in her West Side neighborhood.

"We're making it like a little festival to get our neighbors out and socializing without the pressure of going to a block-watch meeting," she said.

Last year, the national rally drew in more than 35 million people from about 10,000 communities, said Matt Peskin, executive director of the National Association of Town Watch, which started National Night Out 25 years ago. In Ohio, 238 communities are to participate, compared with 199 last year.

The number of people involved in block-watch groups is increasing, Peskin said, to about 8 percent of the population, from 5 percent in the 1980s. He attributes some of that to National Night Out.

"Crime prevention is really a 50-50 partnership by the neighborhood and police department," he said. "Criminals know what neighborhoods are being watched and will go to another neighborhood."

Boggs, who has been participating in National Night Out for 11 years, said she is giving crime and drugs a going-away party.

"Inner-city neighborhoods are having some problems right now -- foreclosures, squatters setting up drug houses right on my block," she said. "I want to take control of this. I want to get the message across that we need to start looking out for each other."

Sgt. Ron Kemmerling Jr. of the Columbus Division of Police said an officer will stop by each event to give safety demonstrations and distribute crime-prevention brochures. The annual event is also a good opportunity for neighbors to build relationships, he said.

"I think people are so busy now, oftentimes you don't know the people who live three doors down. It's a chance to come out and meet your neighbors."

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