CEDAR RAPIDS — Terry Bilsland pushed sausages as they sizzled on a grill in front of his southeast Cedar Rapids home last night.
Around 20 of Bilsland’s neighbors gathered around the grill and other nearby tables filled with food as part of Tuesday’s National Night Out, an event aimed at strengthening community bonds across the country. But beyond the socializing is a bigger goal: crime prevention.
“You meet your neighbors and know who belongs in the neighborhood,” said Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association. “It helps them be aware.”
Around Cedar Rapids, 11 neighborhood events were organized for this year’s celebration, including one larger kickoff. Police officers, volunteers, and firefighters canvassed various parts of the city to distribute educational materials and enjoy some food. The idea was to chat with local residents in an informal, low-stress environment.
“Anything’s that’s positive and stress-free is very beneficial,” said Cedar Rapids police Lt. Tim Daily, who spoke with neighbors at the southeast side potluck.
Police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said National Night Out is important for building relationships between neighbors and creating a “closer-knit community.”
“It’s good because, as busy as our community and society are, we don’t take the time to get to know our neighbors,” she said. “That’s how we’re going to be able to fight crime.”
Hamblin said residents can wave to neighbors in their yards, but unless everyone is communicating, they won’t know, for example, if a family has teenage kids, which would be the reason a bunch of teenagers are running in and out of that neighbor’s house.
In Iowa City, organizers put on a main party at Wetherby Park, 2400 Taylor Dr., in addition to several other neighborhood get-togethers.
“It’s part of a much larger puzzle,” Iowa City police Officer Jorey Bailey said of the yearly event. “Everything we do goes towards making this place a better place to live. If we know one more of our neighbors, if we know who belongs, we’re more able to report things that are suspicious.”
According to statistics from the neighborhood social networking site NextDoor, more than two-thirds of homeowners nationwide said they feel safer in their homes and neighborhoods because they know those who live nearby. Also, three-fourths of those polled said they thought their neighborhoods would be safer if they communicated more with fellow residents.