PENDLETON — Lock your doors, turn off your porch lights, and get outside to spend time with your neighbors and local law enforcement.
That’s what the National Night Out campaign and Pendleton Police Department told the people of Pendleton and hundreds of them listened, joining each other and units from law enforcement and the fire department for an evening of food and fun at seven different locations around the city.
“It’s not usually the best day of someone’s life when we show up,” said Community Services Officer Shelly Studebaker. “So it’s nice to show up and people are happy to see us.”
Studebaker added that it can be beneficial for people to get to know the officers away from those stressful situations.
The top priority of the event though, Studebaker said, is to strengthen the bonds between neighbors so that they can take their safety into their own hands.
“The more citizens look after themselves and each other, the more it helps us,” she said.
For the party hosted by Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock and his wife, Donna, on the city’s North Hill, National Night Out also serves as the community’s annual Neighborhood Watch meeting.
Their group, which includes about 80 families from the neighborhood, is the only one that’s been formally organized, according to Studebaker. The group formed in the past five years after a house was broken into in the area and earlier this year someone from the watch helped police locate a criminal after jotting down a suspicious vehicle’s license plate.
Cpl. Ryan Lehnert, who served as community services officer when Pendleton joined the National Night Out campaign a decade ago, came to speak with the group.
He both praised them for the work they’ve done while highlighting some areas for improvement, such as making lists of valuable items with serial numbers and warning police when they may be leaving town for multiple days.
Studebaker said that there’s other neighborhoods in the city that call in suspicious activity but none that have organized formal watches. But she’s hoping National Night Out has started more conversations about changing that.
“That’s the primary goal,” she said. “Of the places I was at, at almost every single one, somebody asked me about a Neighborhood Watch.”
For those interested, she said that organization and recruitment has to start with the neighborhoods and from there Pendleton police can provide the resources.
Jesselee Leachman was another host as he organized and led the party at Roy Raley Park for the second year in a row.
“Last year, I was really stressed out,” he said. “I didn’t really get to enjoy it.”
That’s because Roy Raley Park was the most attended party of the 10 hosted for National Night Out last year with more than 100 people coming out. Proud of what he did the first time around, Leachman returned as a host this year to outdo his debut.
New from last year was a DJ playing music in the park, a table setup for the U.S. Army, a free face painting table courtesy of the Pendleton Library and a dunk tank featuring his friend Don Lien dressed as a zombie.
With scorching heat bearing down on attendees as the event opened at 6 p.m., the dunk tank ended up being one of the best seats in the park.
There were also parties hosted at the Kiwanis Park, Indian Village Apartments, and a South Hill neighborhood along with others.
In total from each location, Studebacker projected about 400 attendees before this year’s event. After making it out to all but one of the parties Tuesday night, Studebacker said on Wednesday that they were close to that estimate despite the heat keeping people inside.
While National Night Out partners with several sponsors around the country, Tuesday night’s parties were also supported by more than a dozen local sponsors in organizing and supplying the parties.
Next year, Studebaker said she hopes to get more civic groups involved to potentially have a party located downtown. But after her third year coordinating the program, Studebaker feels like it’s on the right track.
“I couldn’t be happier with where this is going,” she said.