National Night Out brings families to Applegate Park in Merced

Children ran around, posed for pictures and dined on hot dogs Tuesday in Applegate Park, where the city focused its version of National Night Out.

Neighborhoods throughout the city were invited to join with thousands of communities nationwide for the annual crime- and drug-prevention event. It was sponsored nationally by the National Night Out Association of Town Watch and locally by the Merced Police Department.

McGruff the Crime Dog made an appearance in the park, along with several uniformed police officers and firefighters from the city of Merced.

Children climbed in and out of police cars and fire engines while their parents took photos with smartphones. Many youngsters also jumped onto one of the rides in Kiwanis Kiddieland.

More than 37.8 million people in 16,124 communities were expected to take part in the event in each of the 50 states, as well as U.S. territories and military bases around the world. Cities in Canada also observe National Night Out.

Educational booths set up in Applegate Park provided information and advice for parents. A bounce house attached to an inflatable slide was popular as little ones lined up to have a go.

The block parties provide an opportunity to get to know neighbors and learn about the importance of Neighborhood Watch, organizers say.

The goals of National Night Out include building neighborhood spirit and unity in support of anti-crime programs, heightening awareness of crime and drug prevention, and strengthening police and community partnerships.

Other National Night Out activities took place in communities throughout Merced County and the rest of the Valley.