WOODBRIDGE, Va. - It was National Night Out on Tuesday and on the heels of controversial police encounters nationwide, the annual party has a renewed focus - creating positive relationships between the police and the community.
It is not always easy for police to change preconceived notions about them in the community and vice versa, but consider National Night Out an olive branch.
"Kids need to see who protects us in our community," said Delvon McCormick, a Woodbridge, Va., resident.
And not just when there is bad news.
"We need this more often, not just once a year," said Sonya Warner.
McCormick and Warner both live in Woodbridge where a Tuesday night block party was held in Prince William County. It was just one of similar bashes happening across the country to promote police-community partnerships amid high tensions between police and particularly members of the African American community.
"I don't want to teach him that he has to fear certain things," said Warner, the mother of a 4-year-old son. "I want him to feel protected, be able to socialize with anybody and don't see the injustice, so hopefully communities like this keep doing this more often so you are not in a situation of being scared to talk to our fellow neighbors and officers and know that we are together."
National Night Out is just a start in improving police-community relationships. Police in Prince William County said they have not experienced some of the tensions seen in other areas of the country. Even so, they are still impacted by it.
"Some of the negative comments toward police do affect us, but our community is strong and our community has always been supportive of us and we appreciate that support and it has shown almost every single day," said Prince William County Police Sgt. Jonathan Perok. "Especially in times like we have had, it is very important that we continue these communications and to continue to be a part of these events where we can come out and get into the communities and talk first-hand with our residents."
National Night Out is in its 32nd year, but the work to rebuild and prevent broken bridges continues year round.