The park that sits in the middle of West Valley City's Greenbriar neighborhood didn't get much use five years ago. Back then, residents didn't know each other, gangs frequented the area and drive-by shootings were a weekly occurrence.
But Tuesday night some 300 people gathered at the once-abandoned park, near 5000 West and 3000 South, to share food and games and hear speeches from local law enforcement officers in celebration of National Night Out Against Crime.Dozens of other neighborhoods in the Salt Lake Valley joined Greenbriar to celebrate victories against crime and tout neighborhood watch and patrol groups. The first Tuesday in August of each year is designated as National Night Out Against Crime, and Gov. Mike Leavitt added his approval by declaring Tuesday Crime Prevention Awareness Day.
Community events statewide ranged from small potluck dinners between two families to major parades, McGruff visits and entertainment.
Cheryl Harris, a Greenbriar resident and organizer of the community's Night Out event, said the road that took her community from a crime-ridden area to "the best place to live in West Valley" has been paved with hard work, determination and countless volunteer hours.
Harris and dozens of concerned volunteers like her take turns patrolling the streets every night and reporting any suspicious activities to a "home base" resident who keeps track of recurring, unwanted visitors.
"We finally decided we were sick of it," Harris recalls. "We wanted to take our streets back."
Resident Corey Richardson acknowledged that low-income neighborhoods such as Greenbriar typically attract crime. But in the two years since he and his family moved there, crime hasn't been much of a problem.
"It's nice to know I can let my kids run around in the park and know who's around," Richardson said. "The best thing about having a neighborhood watch is that it scares crime away."
Linda Bailey and Ann Etta Terry of Rose Park hosted about 30 residents at the first Night Out activities on American Beauty Drive (1030 West). They say their area, which is considered by many to be a typical crime-ridden "west-side" neighborhood, has a history of active community councils and patrol groups.
Bailey said a known drug house was once located in the neighborhood. But partly due to the neighborhood's mobile watch and letting the offenders know they "weren't going to be good neighbors," the residents of the home moved away.
"It's a good idea to get neighbors together to remind us we do look out for each other," Bailey said. "If you have a real strong watch, it reminds you that you are neighbors."