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National Night Out attracts big crowd

Eric McCallum, manager of Sonny's Barbecue in Albany, passes burgers to his son Eric Jr., for completion. Sonny's and other agencies and businesses at the National Night Out donated food, school supplies or other material. The event was held Thursday at Radium Springs Middle School. (Aug. 1, 2013)

Eric McCallum, manager of Sonny's Barbecue in Albany, passes burgers to his son Eric Jr., for completion. Sonny's and other agencies and businesses at the National Night Out donated food, school supplies or other material. The event was held Thursday at Radium Springs Middle School. (Aug. 1, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. -- Braving a heat index of 98 degrees, hundreds turned out at Radium Springs Middle School on Thursday afternoon for the 6th annual National Night Out.

They came for the food, the music, free book bags and school supplies. With all that came an abundance of crime-fighting literature and the chance to meet local law enforcement and other public safety personnel.

The annual event in Albany keeps getting bigger every year, said Jackie Battle, chief of the Dougherty County Police Department. Also present were Albany firefighters, the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office, Emergency Medical Services, Dougherty School System police, correction agents and others.

According to officials, the first real National Night Out -- dubbed "America's Night Out Against Crime" -- came in 1984 as an effort to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie, and to send a message to criminals that neighborhoods were organized and fighting back.

The founding organization of the event, the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), says more than 37 million people and 15,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases stage their own activities every August on the first week.

"Lt. Danny Ball (with the DCPD) put this together for us six years ago," Battle said, "so we could meet with the community and answer any questions they might have. Any of the kids who have problems can meet with us or at least come to recognize our faces."

Battle said that with the crowds and the cacophony of voices, most of the valuable safety and law enforcement material would be delivered though pamphlets and brochures given out by various agencies and sponsors.

"We got all different colors," said Kennedy Johnson, a deacon with the New Birth Fellowship Church, pointing to the mountains of donated children's book bags in a multitude of styles. "You got gray, you got black, you got red, you got green, blue and purple. Any color you want, we got it."

National Night Out in Albany was co-sponsored by the Dougherty County Police Department and Hines Memorial CME Church. According to Battle, the food, school supplies and entertainment were provided by a long list of community partners.