Linda Bolden’s previous hometown in Massachusetts celebrated National Night Out for a whopping three days. But for the Maxton resident, the small town she now calls home may have topped that event in just three hours.
“There’s a little more rides for the kids, great music, and we get to participate in our community,” she said while sitting in Maxton’s Beacham Park, where the annual cross-county crime prevention event was held on Tuesday night.
“They want to get on everything that is moving … we have to, like, slow them down,” she said gesturing to her the three youngest members of her family in attendance. The event included an inflatable rock-climbing wall for kids to scale, face-painting, inflatable water slides and — perhaps the biggest hit — a trailer lined with flat-screen televisions for attendees to play video games.
Maxton and Lumberton were among more than 16,000 communities in North America observing National Night Out, started in 1984 to bolster relationships between law enforcement officers and community members.
Bolden and eight of her family members attended the event to support her 18-year-old son, Daequan, who is a member of the Maxton Police Explorers, a mentoring and training program for teens looking to become police officers.
“He’s been doing so much prep for the event … he loves it,” she said. The Explorers, along with Maxton Community Watch and the Maxton Police Department, cooked and handed out refreshments to the crowd.
Bolden said she moved to Maxton after finding it on the Internet while looking for a quiet, small town for her family to live in.
National Night Out has in part helped Bolden and her family feel safe despite Robeson County’s high crimes rates, which she said are still lower than where she used to live.
“I love it. It brings us together as a community to let people know we won’t stand for crime,” she said, noting the event has also helped her get to know her local law enforcement officers.
According to James McEachin, who has volunteered at the event for at least seven years, the event allows the community to share positive interactions with the police, rather than only seeing them when they are in trouble or in danger.
“I think — no, I know — that events like this bring the community together and bring more understanding and sympathy to the job,” he said.
For Charles McLaurin, who is the chairperson of the 25-member Maxton Community Watch, National Night Out is also a chance to enlist more vigilant eyes in the fight against crime.
“This celebration here brings out the best in everybody,” he said in between frying batches of fish that drew a crowd of its own. “But the focus is still taking back the streets.”
The event is one of Maxton’s biggest, drawing about 500 people each year. Police Chief Tammy Deese, with a National Night Out T-shirt and her face painted, said her officers look forward to it just as much as residents.
“They work very hard for this event,” she said. “They made all the cotton candy, all the popcorn.”
Officers and local businesses sell candy throughout the year to raise money for the event.
James Brown, a 15-year-old Maxton Explorer, said dishing out those treats alongside the officers was his favorite part of the evening. Through the program, he’s learned to fill out reports and has even gone on calls.
In Lumberton, door prizes and cool water drew a crowd to the downtown plaza — a crowd that has grown year after year.
“I just want them to realize why we’re doing this — to let the criminal element know we won’t stand for it,” said Police Chief Michael McNeill. McNeill said he also hoped the event would encourage people to report crimes they see, noting they can remain anonymous.
“We can’t have an officer on every corner,” he said.
Lumberton police and firefighters made up a large portion of the group, enjoying the hot dogs, music and, occasionally, dancing.
“The officers you see out here, they weren’t forced to come. Most of them asked to come,” said Councilman Burnis Wilkins, who attended the event along with several Community Watch members from his Godwin Heights neighborhood.
LoisAnn Price, a Lumberton resident who has attended the town event for three years now, wanted the youngest members of her family to continue their tradition of community involvement.
“I knew they would enjoy the water, the music,” she said pointing towards a group of drenched children splashing in the fountain. “Well, maybe they don’t care about the music.”
Price said being able to meet officers at the annual event gives her peace of mind.
“It lets them know what kind of person you are, that you’re interested and concerned about your community,” said Price, who was joined by several family members and Evelyn Allen, the mother of Lumberton patrol Capt. Jerome Morton. “… We know all of them and it makes you feel like if you call, they know who you are.”
Both Price and Allen said crime is concern for them.
“No more if I lived in the city than in the country,” Allen said. “It’s everywhere. I’ve had my house broken into three, four times.”
Wilkins hopes events like National Night Out can help deter crime, simply by giving people a crime-free place to go.
“I’d say this is the safest place in town right now,” he said.