Communities across Minnesota will host National Night Out activities on Tuesday evening.
The annual nationwide event is pitched as a way to fight crime by encouraging neighbors to get to know each other better. And it's a chance for residents to talk with police officers in a low-stress setting.
National Night Out includes block parties and neighborhood gatherings. More than 200 individual events are planned in the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan; the city had to cap registration at 210, to ensure police officers would be able to visit each gathering.
"We have anything from 10 people sitting around in lawn chairs, having a potluck and having a few drinks, to 175 people who are getting together with games and bounce houses and bands," said Jill Ondrey, a crime prevention specialist with the Eagan Police Department.
Ondrey said 30 Eagan police officers will be making the rounds Tuesday to visit each of the National Night Out events in that community.
"Some of the best crime-prevention programs begin with making connections with residents, and residents making connections with each other," she said. "You know, kind of the old saying of looking out for one another — that's really what our neighborhood watch program is about and what National Night Out supports."
The event has grown a lot in Eagan over the past two decades; there were just 20 National Night Out gatherings in the city in 1998.
The annual event is known as Night to Unite in some Minnesota communities. In many cities, a listing of events can be found on city or police department websites or Facebook pages.
"This is a great situation where everybody is in a relaxed environment, everyone can have meaningful conversations and make some good connections — and get answers to questions that they may have about our own community or about the profession of law enforcement and why things are done the way they are," Ondrey said.