‘Night Out’ unites community, local law enforcement

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of Claremonters, joined by residents from neighboring areas, descended on Memorial Park for National Night Out. The weather was gracious considering the recent heat wave, with temperatures cooling to the 70s and accompanied by a gentle breeze.

Attendees had the chance to mingle with friends and, in the case of younger guests, tire themselves out on the playground equipment. Then, come dusk, the crowd settled back to enjoy an al fresco screening of the animated family movie Big Hero 6. 

The event was sponsored by the Claremont Police Department, marking the culminating event in its annual Summer Movies in the Park series. Per usual, CPD supplied tickets in advance for the big night—550 in all—to residents craving some fresh-made grub from the In-In-Out burger truck.

Along with numerous representatives of Claremont police, there was a booth presented by Keeping Good in Our Neighborhood. Founded by Claremont resident Betty Crocker, KGNH is a neighborhood watch movement that espouses a commitment to “vigilant kindness.” In the case of National Night Out, that kindness included free KGNH T-shirts.

National Night Out isn’t just a local affair. It’s a country-wide campaign by the National Association of Town Watch, a network of law enforcement agencies, neighborhood watch groups and crime prevention associations. Its aim, according to the NATW website, is to “enhance the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement while bringing back a true sense of community.”

Bringing the police together with the communities they patrol is especially important in today’s climate, where isolated instances of racial profiling and excessive force by a few officers have, among some people, engendered suspicion and even hostility towards police personnel.

“The overall message is that there needs to be transparency throughout law enforcement, and that it’s important to build relationships with the people we serve,” Claremont Police Sergeant Robert Rauchfuss said.

Of course, Sgt. Rauchfuss—who has been with the CPD since 1996—has a leg-up in that respect. He says “it’s awesome” working in Claremont because he grew up here, attending local schools like El Roble and Claremont High. “It’s nice to go back and visit my old teachers,” he said.

He’s proud of the efficiency of the Claremont Police Department, which in the previous week had arrested three burglars along with recovering their victims’ property.

Kim Sink, who teaches at Condit Elementary School, spent Tuesday evening the way she spends school days, surrounded by kids. When the COURIER stopped by her network of blankets, she was handing out snacks and glow necklaces to her children, 7-year-old Sophia and 5-year-old Dominic, as well as her friends’ kids, Kannon and Chase Walter and Ryan McCallister, who are 6, 4 and 5, respectively. 

Ms. Sink appreciates the safe atmosphere of Claremont as well as the tight-knit community. Having lived in the City of Trees since she was three, she constantly encounters people she’s known for years. “His mom and I went to kindergarten together,” she said, indicating Ryan.

Ms. Sink has been a kindergarten teacher since 2000 and, though some view teaching the youngest of schoolchildren as a challenge, she relishes the job. “I love the kids,” she said. “To me, it’s so important to start them off with a good foundation. That’s where I want to be.”

Seventeen-year-old Mackenzi Lamott has a number of interests. The senior has earned a spot on Claremont High School’s all-girls choir and competed with Claremont’s Goltz Judo. What the teen really wants, though, is to be in law enforcement.

To that aim, Mackenzi recently became an Explorer with the Claremont Police Department, where she will learn about police work by taking ride-alongs with officers and helping with the department’s community events. Mackenzi also lent her pipes to National Night Out, delivering a stirring a capella version of “The Star Spangled Banner” before the movie started.

After polishing off their burgers, Don and Vania Chavez and their kids, Nathalia, 10, and Nathan, 14, spoke to the COURIER about what brought them to the park and to the city in general.

Seven years ago Mr. Chavez, an IT worker with the El Monte School District, and Ms. Chavez, a nurse in Norwalk, were looking for a place to buy a house. He said Claremont was the perfect fit because of its fine school district. “We also love the trees and the way it’s college-oriented and family-oriented,” Ms. Chavez added.

The family gets out to the city’s summer concerts and movies as often as possible. “It’s great to catch up with everyone, because during summer break we don’t often get to see the families from school,” Ms. Chavez said.

Nathalia, who says she likes Claremont “because it’s quiet,” attends Mountain View Elementary. Nathan will be a sophomore at CHS and is a linebacker with the junior varsity football team. Luckily, the team features “cool guys,” because five days a week this summer, the young athletes lift in the CHS weight room from 8:45 to 11 a.m. and return for practice from 3 to 6 p.m.

Speaking of cool guys, Kiwanian Bob Fagg and his wife Sonja Stump, who were manning Kiwanis’ ice cream booth, wanted to give a shout out to the many generous Claremonters. These include Tony and Gudu Husson, brothers and co-owners of the local fro-yo chain 21 Choices. For more than 20 years, the Hussons have donated frozen yogurt to be sold by Kiwanis during Concerts in the Park and for the Fourth of July celebration.

“They are so important to this town in so many ways,” Mr. Fagg said.

He and Ms. Stump are likewise important, lending sweat equity to the efforts of Kiwanis and helping coordinate the efforts of the Village Marketing Group, among other endeavors.

“We are passionate about volunteering, but we are just cogs in the wheel,” Mr. Fagg said. “My heroes are regular people doing good things.”

The COURIER staff also welcomes this kind of community event, because it gives readers a chance to share feedback about local coverage.

Two National Night Out attendees, who preferred to remain nameless, even engaged in some gentle ribbing. In recent months, the COURIER has found itself in possession of a “drone” camera, making it possible to capture images with a bird’s-eye view. Our enthusiasm for the new technology has not gone unnoticed.

“We’ve got a drinking game. We take a shot every time there’s a drone picture on the cover of the COURIER,” one man said. “We also take a shot whenever there’s a photo of [city council member] Sam Pedroza in the paper,” his buddy quipped.

Both types of photo-ops are in evidence in this issue of the paper, so bottoms-up, gentlemen.

—Sarah Torribio



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