ALBANY, Ga. -- Police threw a party Tuesday to solidify community commitment to showing crime and drugs the exit door.
As part of National Night Out, Albany Police Department officers gave away school supplies and food and talked with their neighbors from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the parking lot of the Albany Civic Center on Oglethorpe Boulevard.
"Beat officers, executive staff and drug unit officers, among others, are all here engaging with the community," said Police Deputy Chief Nathaniel Clark. "We want people to know that we can make a difference working together in the community."
The idea behind the night out, nationally and locally, is to send a message to criminals that the community is organizing, joining with police and is fighting back, according to the nationaltownwatch.org website.
On a more personal level, local police want people to know they are members of the same community -- just folks, too. Many officers volunteered to help out at the party on their time off.
"We are here and people can see us out of uniform as everyday people, just like them," said Cpl. Marc Kjellin. "I live in Albany; this is my community, too. So I'm here to relax and enjoy my time with my neighbors."
There was plenty for children and adults to enjoy at the party. The inflatable bouncy house was full of squealing children at 5:30 p.m.
Long lines formed for the free food: 500 hamburgers, 700 hot dogs and more than 100 pizzas donated by local businesses.
Sitting at a picnic table, Melva Williams and her three children seemed to be enjoying the party before it even began. While the children stared at the orange, red and blue bouncy houses, Williams said this was the first year she and her children took part in the Night Out program.
"This is a good thing they are doing," Williams said. "I have been looking for a job for two years, and it is hard to buy school supplies."
In addition to school supplies, there were anti-crime booklets, information and even a coloring book titled "Gangs Are Not For You," complete with crayons, available from the Albany-Dougherty Gang Unit.
Linda Blocker and her husband Melvin said they thought the Night Out was a good idea, while their 6-year-old-son Elijah headed straight for a bouncy house.
"This is a good outlet for the kids to have fun and get to know the police," said Melvin Blocker. "It is a way for people, not just children, to see police as their friends."
Simultaneously in Lee County at the First Baptist Church parking lot, people turned out to a "Take Back Your Community" event as part of the national Night Out.
The event was sponsored by multiple agencies such as the Lee County Sheriff's Office, Leesburg Police Department and Lee County Fire Department.