Tustin’s National Night Out strengthens relationships between residents, police

By Karen Robes Meeks

On a hot summer Tuesday night in Tustin, Nadha Shafeer was engaged in a competitive game of musical chairs and the only things standing between her and a $75 Target gift card were a boy and a Tustin Police officer.

The 9-year-old girl managed to beat out most of the children and three other adults – including members of the Tustin Police Department.

Alyssa Nunez entertains with a fire baton demonstration during the Tustin Police Department’s National Night Out at The District at Tustin Legacy.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Finally, when the last song stopped, Shafeer was sitting pretty.

“That was really exciting,” she said, acknowledging that it’s not every day one gets to play musical chairs with police officers and win. “It was really fun!”

This was Shafeer and her family’s first National Night Out event in Tustin, where more than 1,000 people came to the valet area of The District at Tustin Legacy to visit booths, play games, and meet with local law enforcement.

Lieutenant Robert Wright poses for a photo with Raena Ramirez, Anyssa Nunez, and Maaikee Pronda, from left.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

The annual event gives the police department, the public, and businesses a chance to get to know each other in a fun, relaxed setting that showcases community spirit.

Police Service Officers Megan Evans and Adriana Tokar have been putting on the event for at least the last six years.

“We just want to create an environment to let residents know we are here for them, to have a good time and having that conversation in a casual setting builds that rapport,” Evans said. “Most people don’t meet us in a friendly or happy situation and we’re trying to counter that.”

The Color Guard stands at attention during National Night Out in Tustin.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Having business and community partners participate at booths and/or through donations really help make the event a success, Tokar said.

“We have a lot of organizations with resources for the community here. We all work together and we couldn’t get our jobs done without these resources as well and often refer residents to them,” she said.

Tustin Police Officer Chuck Mitchell keeps watch on his K9 partner, Kingsley.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

The city of Tustin’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, a disaster preparedness volunteer program that started in 2013, was among the groups represented at the event, passing out information about Alert OC, the countywide reverse 911 system, as well as information for the elderly and emergency plans for families.

“People take for granted that everything is going to get resolved in an emergency,” said Joe Meyers, emergency management coordinator. “But no, it’s not, and we’re going to need people to help. And that’s what CERT is about.”

A toddler appears to be intrigued by the sights at the Tustin Police Department’s National Night Out at The District at Tustin Legacy.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Irvine resident Lamya Chettali said she was glad she attended the event.

“We wanted to know more about the Tustin Police Department,” she said, adding that it was nice to see the interaction. “It’s really amazing, and the kids aren’t afraid to go up to a police officer. They’re always saying hi.”

Lieutenant Robert Wright introduces Raena Ramirez, Miss Tustin; Anyssa Nunez, Miss Tustin Princess; and Maaikee Pronda, Miss Desert Southland.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Activities also included entertainment from the Tustin Dance Center, live band music, a raffle drawing, and a K9 demonstration by Tustin Police Officer Chuck Mitchell and his K9 partner Kingsley.

“We’re enjoying being with the public, telling them what we do and what we’re all about, showing them the good side of police,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, they see the bad stuff. They see it on the news. We really want to embrace the relationship we have with them and that we’re the good guys.”

Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano and Mayor Pro Tem Becky Gomez.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Lieutenant Robert Wright greets a young attendee.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Lieutenant Robert Wright awards Target gift cards after a musical chairs competition.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Kids have fun playing in the bounce house at the Tustin Police Department ‘s National Night Out.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC