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Neighbors band together to fight crime
When neighbors band together, great things can happen. Things like putting a dent in the local crime rate.

That was the message that came from the National Night Out event held at Whitmore Park last week. Hot dogs and refreshments were served and fun activities like face painting, pony rides, tram rides and a bounce house drew a number of families.

The event was sponsored by the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children and the city Department of Public Safety as well as a number of corporate sponsors.

"The whole idea is to get neighbors to get out and socialize ... and promote unity to protect each other as neighbors," said Sgt. Jose Berber of the Ceres Police Department.

Berber said that in Ceres neighbors are encouraged to get together as "block leaders," an alternative to the traditional Neighborhood Watch program. The program is handled through the Ceres Partnership.

Lourdes Perez of the Partnership said that neighborhoods are encouraged to get together and discuss shared concerns. The Partnership has been working to help with concerns in the unincorporated areas of Ceres, such as the Collins Road area as well as the Midway/Morgan area.

Perez said neighbors in the Midway area had a concern about gangs taking over Parklawn Park. Meetings were arranged in the park that included crime prevention tips from Sheriff's deputies.

"More families are going to the park now," said Perez. "About 30 families go out there weekly. Before they didn't feel safe."

Ceres Police Chief/Public Safety Director Art de Werk said this year's event was "more important because as a a community and society we are facing very difficult times and it's up to the community to work with the police department to do what can be done to combat crime."

The attendance was in the hundreds, said deWerk, signaling that "people are worried. They came to the event in hopes of learning more about their safety ...whether they're going to have to keep putting up with gangs. I think people are looking for answers."

DeWerk unabashedly remarked that reversing the tide of gangs and crime will require "a very unified community ... faith in God ... and all of us working together."

The chief said that good things happen when neighbors open up to police to work on combatting crime. Police are making progress at cracking down on the trouble spot of Darrah Street where "police are making contacts there and people are opening up. Darrah has really become a problem for the people living there."

Not making neighborhoods any safer is the state's desire to keep prison costs down by releasing approximately 20,000 non-violent felons from prison before their sentences are up.

According to deWerk, the early release of felons on that scale will "create new crime victims." He estimates there is a new potential for 190,000 new victims based on a recidivism rate at more than 70 percent.

The Ninth District Federal Court issued a ruling for the release of 40,000 to 70,000 prisoners early because of lawsuits alleging prison overcrowding.

In Ceres de Werk said he's seen neighbors rise up and band together to tackle gangs, drugs, burglaries and speeding. He cited off the top of his head the area east of Smyrna Park east, and Standford.

The National Night Out event included tours of the nearby Police Station and Ceres Community Center.

One of the block parties held in Ceres for National Night Out was at Almond Terrace Apartments on Evans Road. The management invited tenants to an event between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. that featured dancing horses.