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Neighborhoods prepare for annual National Night Out

City officials and residents in dozens of neighborhoods Tuesday will participate in National Night Out, a collection of events meant to improve community-police relations in a year Baltimore has seen more than 200 homicides.

Community gatherings around the city and across Maryland will feature block parties, games and food. The events are intended to help increase cooperation between citizens and law enforcement officials. National Night Out has occurred throughout the country on the first Tuesday in August for more than 30 years.

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"It's a great opportunity to interact with local police districts and see a lot of different, fun things," Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith said. "Every aspect of our agency will be out at different events."

About 50 events scheduled in the city, said Smith, who called the night a chance for everyone to "let their hair down" and for citizens to see police in a different light.

National Night Out events are also scheduled in jurisdictions across the region, including at Truxton Park in Annapolis, Patriot Plaza in Towson, Main Street in Ellicott City, Dutterer's Park in Westminster and at the Target store on Constant Friendship Boulevard in Abingdon.

State Del. Jay Jalisi, a Baltimore County Democrat, will stop by six events, including where he lives in Reisterstown.

"We are so busy in our lives that we don't even get to know who our immediate neighbors are," Jalisi said. National Night Out, he said, "allows the community and families to come out, know each other and meet each other."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who said he's attended National Night Out events in Baltimore for about 20 years, said the annual gatherings help expand community engagement and let people "enjoy one day of safety."

"That's what missing with what's going on in Baltimore, people not knowing who their neighbors are," Young said. "People not looking out for each other."

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton agreed, saying National Night Out encourages engagement not only between residents and police, but among neighbors.

"We're at a time when we're having record-breaking violence," said Middleton, who serves as council vice president. "[Citizens] want to be comfortable coming out of their homes, and it's important that we have community activities.

"We just can't go to work and go home, and just ignore everything that's outside," she said.

Middleton said she plans to attend four community gatherings, including events in Forest Park and Chelsea Terrace. She will also stop by the Delta Community Center for festivities starting at 3 p.m.

Maryland Muslim Council President Sean Stinnett, who oversees the Greater Northwest Neighborhoods of Baltimore City community association, said this year nine communities have joined forces to plan an event on the corner of Fernhill Street and Garrison Avenue. Stinnett has been organizing local National Night Out events for about five years.

Stinnett said he expects 80 to 120 people will attend.

"That's how we really address just the crime issues," he said. "If neighbors know each other, they're able to look out for each other."

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The Garrison Avenue event will go from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with speakers including Mayor Catherine Pugh and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby. There will also be a DJ, two moon bounces and community resource tables.

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