When fighting crime is a picnic

The National Night Out included a picnic, performances by clowns andacrobats, and a parade.
YOUNGSTOWN -- It was billed as "a show of unity against crime," but for some local residents, a gathering Tuesday on the city's North Side seemed more like a neighborhood barbecue.
"It's not all about crime. It's about meeting neighbors on the North, South and East Side," said Debbie Housel, the president of the Gibson Heights block watch, on the city's South Side.
Housel was one of the block watch members on hand in Wick Park to mark the National Night Out, an annual effort to unify neighborhoods against crime. The event included a picnic, performances by clowns and acrobats, and a parade featuring cars from area police departments.
Other area communities, including Beaver Township and Farrell, Pa., marked the night with similar events.
Getting together: About 100 local residents joined several Mahoning County deputy sheriffs and officers from area police departments for Youngstown's event, which began at 5 p.m. Sheriff Randall Wellington, Mayor George McKelvey, Police Chief Richard Lewis and several city councilman also attended.
The party was sponsored by the Black Knights Police Association. It was the 18th annual National Night Out in Youngstown.
Youngstown Detective Sgt. Elrico Alli, an organizer, said he hopes that the local residents who met police officers Tuesday will feel more comfortable reporting crimes in the future.
"People have a tendency to be less hostile if they know who they're talking to," Alli said. "They feel like they've made a connection."
Discussing problems: The Rev. Edmond Southerland, the president of the "Somebody's Watching" block watch on the city's North Side, added that the gathering allows local residents to discuss their common problems.
"We can come together with people in other areas of Youngstown and work out some of our problems," he said.
Southerland also said he thinks news reports of Youngstown's crime problem were overblown.
"It sold papers," he said. "A lot of cities and towns are worse."
A report created last December by an independent research firm in Kansas ranked Youngstown as the 22nd most dangerous city in the country because of crime. The report was based on FBI crime statistics from 1999.
Two girls came close to fighting at the start of festivities. Some 20 teen-agers yelled obscenities and surrounded the girls as they prepared to fight. Alli and another Youngstown police officer stepped in.
South Sider: J.C. White, a member of the Four Square block watch on the city's South Side, said he thinks the reports of the city's crime problem weren't overblown. He said the event Tuesday demonstrated that some local residents are working to reduce the amount of crime in the city.
South Side resident Valetta Richardson added that she thinks the city could help reduce crime by sponsoring activities such as National Night Out.
"There's not enough for the kids to get involved in," she said. "They just have too much time on their hands."

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