Neighborhoods come together against crime
Chico Police Department visits 31 block parties to get citizens to look out for each other
Tuesday night in Chico was unseasonably cool for August. It was the kind of weather that makes people want to be outside, instead of cooped up in front of the tube with the a/c blasting. The Chico Police Department couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable evening to host its third-annual Night Out, part of a 25-year-old national event that is meant to take the streets back from those who lurk in the darkness and wish others harm.
In all, 31 neighborhoods hosted block parties, the most visible of which was the kickoff event in the City Plaza, which included live music, food and demonstrations from various law-enforcement units. The Night Out is meant to bring people together to help the police prevent drug use and crime in Chico neighborhoods.
In various pockets of town, smaller gatherings were being held. While some, like the one planned for the Valley Oak Village co-housing neighborhood, seemed nonexistent, others thrived, attracting nearly 100 attendees.
“The idea here is that everyone gets to know everyone,” said Dave Osborne, pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist church on Hooker Oak Avenue.
In the church courtyard, which is pleasantly landscaped with flowers, grass and a running fountain, dozens of congregation members and neighbors mingled around an ice cream bar, awaiting the arrival of police officers and volunteers. But nobody was rushing to leave, and conversation flowed easily from talk about dogs to planting fruit trees to the area’s history.
Cec (short for Cecil) and Ann Nielsen have lived off Hooker Oak for 50 years, since before the road was even paved. Things certainly have changed over the years, Ann said, and she couldn’t remember there ever being a neighborhood party such as the one she and her husband attended Tuesday night.
The Nielsens, like all the others in the courtyard that night, had received an invitation, hand-delivered by one of the young members of the church.
“It’s a grand idea to do this,” said Ann, who was chatting with some neighbors she knew, and others she’d just met that night.
She and her husband decided to attend not only to brush shoulders with old friends or maybe even make new ones, but also to chat with Officer Mike O’Brien and Capt. Mike Maloney, who were party hopping. Cec, it turns out, was bitten by one of his neighbors’ pit bulls back in January. Despite complaints to Animal Control and the local police about the number of animals that particular neighbor owns (it’s more than the city allows, Ann insisted), nothing had been done.
“It affects the whole neighborhood because nobody comes outside anymore,” she said. “We felt let down by the system. We need to be reassured.”
The evening’s vibe was overwhelmingly positive, with Osborne setting the tone by making the rounds with a broad smile on his face. It turns out the pastor is also a police chaplain, just one reason he was so quick to jump on board when the Chico PD approached him to host a block party.
“I like the idea of neighbors getting to know each other, so when the bad guys come to town, you know who’s not supposed to be here,” he said.
The push this year was to get church involvement, said Officer Tim Truby, organizer of the event. Of the 31 block parties held Tuesday night—more than double last year’s 12—five of them were hosted by churches. Next year, Truby and his team will target businesses.
One of the welcome outcomes of these events, Truby said, is that Neighborhood Watch groups emerge. Members of Volunteers in Police Service (V.I.P.S.) also visited the church, to offer information on starting such a group.
“We’ll see what they want to do,” Osborne said of his neighbors. “This is about community action; we’re not going to force anything.”