National Night Out draws hundreds downtown

National Night Out 2015

GILROY—Hundreds of children and their families descended on Fifth Street in downtown Gilroy for a community event designed to promote a positive interaction between public safety employees and residents. Attendees and organizers alike say it worked, and they are hoping someday the event will grow to include all of downtown.
On Tuesday night, Gilroy held its second annual National Night Out, but this was the first year the event took place in the heart of the city. Young children mingled with police officers, firefighters and other first responders—even the Gilroy Police Department’s two horses and K9 dog Pharaoh.
Kelly Disiato of Gilroy brought her daughters Quinn and Kendall, ages 6 and 9 respectively, to the event. She said she liked watching her children pet Pharaoh and the GPD’s horses and meeting police officers in a comfortable environment.
“I like the interaction, I think it’s great,” she said. “Kids are more apt to ask for help if they need it and they’re not as scared.”
Her remarks were echoed by Gilroy’s public safety employees, who said events like National Night Out “break down all the barriers.”
“We’re coming together in a positive light and planning for a future in this city,” GPD Sgt. Royce Heath said. “The biggest thing is people get to come out and not interact with police or fire departments when they’re in a time of crisis. It’s hard to bond that way. Events like this are what sticks in peoples’ minds, especially young minds.”
GPD Chief Denise Turner said the interaction between residents and public safety officers is humanizing.
“We want them to learn to trust us and identify us as friendly. They never really get to see us in that light,” she said, after being soaked in a water balloon toss with dozens of children. “Here we are—we’re human—and we’re having fun with them and laughing.”
That experience, police said, provides a stark contrast from the ongoing dialogue in other communities nationwide concerning the use of deadly force.
“When you’re young and impressionable and hear or see negativity about law enforcement or public safety, and you come out and have the exact opposite experience, it sticks in peoples’ minds,” Heath said.
Longtime Gilroy resident Jeff Orth agreed as he surveyed the crowds, from children jumping in bounce houses to others posing for photographs in police and fire vehicles.
“I love seeing this kind of thing,” Orth said. “I’ve lived in Gilroy for 31 years and we absolutely love this community. This is what it’s all about.”
Last year, Gilroy’s first National Night Out was held at Las Animas Park, but the Gilroy Downtown Business Association suggested city officials hold it in the city’s center. The association offered to help with the permitting process, too. Tuesday’s turnout exceeded last year’s, organizers said.
“I think this is healthy,” downtown property owner Gary Walton said. “It’s what community is all about, and there’s no better place to have it than downtown.”
Organizers are planning a third annual National Night Out. “Our goal is for this to be even bigger next year,” Heath said. “I’d like to see the event grow to the point where we take over the entire downtown.”