As James Moore watched his 4-year-old granddaughter Corey Hula-Hoop in the parking lot where a 1-year-old boy was shot to death in May, he wondered why more evenings weren't more like this one.
The threat of rain held off long enough Tuesday evening to allow the parking lot of the Cherrydale Apartments in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore to fill with volunteers passing out tickets for free snowballs, children playing in an inflatable bounce house, and neighbors chatting on National Night Out, the annual anticrime event.
The event is intended in part to encourage greater citizen cooperation with police. One female officer joined in as Cherry Hill residents danced the Wobble.
"The thing is, it only lasts for a minute and then you're back to the everyday," said Moore, 52, referring to Tuesday's National Night Out.
With homicides in Baltimore up by 13 percent so far this year, the number of events planned across the city for National Night Out nearly tripled from 31 last year to 85 on Tuesday. Some were canceled after reports of inclement weather.
National Night Out began in 1984 as a symbolic protest against crime. Neighbors gather for cookouts, parades, and other events intended to strengthen community bonds. Some 37 million people participated in National Night Out events across the country last year, organizers say.
Kevin Cleary, a community program manager in the office of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, described the event as "a time for the community to step out and say 'we want to have a safer neighborhood and a stronger neighborhood.'"
Linda Firman brought her granddaughters Trinity Jordan and Carrington Pope to a National Night Out event at the Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City, where she lives.
"Community policing helps the community converse with police," said Firman. "It's good for police to be visible during good times, not just when something bad is happening."
Dozens of members of Towson Area Citizens on Patrol joined Baltimore County Police and Providence Volunteer Fire Co. trucks on a 90-minute ride with lights flashing and horns and sirens blaring.
Many Towson residents came outside to wave to the procession. Others, with puzzled looks on their faces, stepped out only long enough to ensure the sirens and flashing lights weren't on their way to an actual crime.
Elected officials including Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O'Malley stopped by Mondawmin Mall for Baltimore's largest National Night Out event. They spoke with families and posed for pictures with residents, and Rawlings-Blake raffled off a bike and a backpack for children.
O'Malley, a former prosecutor, told reporters police "need to enforce the law" to address crime in Baltimore.
"What we need to get back to is the basic fundamentals," he said.
Councilman Nick Mosby, who represents the area around Mondawmin, said National Night Out says "we're here for solidarity.
"It shows that folks care about their community," he said.
Chenole Jones, who lives in the nearby Gilmor Homes, brought her 10-year-old son to the Mondawmin event. She said she worried about his mental health after two killings on her block in June. She said he heard the gunshots that killed 27-year-old Darrell Banks.
"My son came in having a panic attack," said Jones, 42. "He was traumatized."
The Mondawmin event was a respite for her children, she said.
"I can see the community is coming together, I see a lot of my neighbors," she said. "It's something positive for the kids."
In Cherry Hill, 1-year-old Carter Scott was shot to death and his father was critically injured in May. Neighbor Pete Battle, 60, said the incident — and his car's getting broken into a month later — shook his sense of safety.
Battle said National Night Out was "a good idea" but compared it to a Band-Aid over a wound gushing blood.
"Just say we got a problem — you got a problem here," he said."When's it going to be safe out here for the little ones?"
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Michael Dresser, Jon Meoli and Luke Lavoie contributed to this article.