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National Night Out kickoff

On Aug. 4, neighborhoods throughout Suffolk will join forces with thousands of communities nationwide for the 26th annual National Night Out crime, drug and gang prevention event.

Sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch and co-sponsored locally by the Suffolk Police Department, the event involves more than 35 million people in 11,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases around the world.

This week, the National Night Out committee is hosting a kick-off meeting for community representatives and business owners to get more information about the event and to pre-register their neighborhoods or businesses to be included in the festivities. Community representatives will receive a National Night Out “party box” and be able to register to win an official National Night Out 26th anniversary banner, along with other door prizes.

The kickoff meeting will be held Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. in the City Council chambers at the municipal center, 441 Market St.

“The community kick-off is to make everyone aware of the calendar of events scheduled for this year’s National Night Out,” said Debbie George, spokeswoman for the city and a member of the committee. “We provide community representatives with the information and tools they’ll need to start organizing their community.”

National Night Out is designed to increase crime-, drug- and gang-prevention awareness, to generate support for local anti-crime efforts, to strengthen neighborhood spirit and to send a message to criminals, letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.

Suffolk’s National Night Out 2008 ranked first in the nation in the population category of 30,000-99,999. In fact, Suffolk was the highest-ranking city in Virginia in any population category, and the only city in Hampton Roads to be recognized last year.

“We would certainly love to take first place again,” George said, adding that the committee is trying to get more communities from northern Suffolk in on the action.

It’s not just neighborhoods and businesses that can participate — groups such as civic leagues and Ruritan clubs have thrown some of the most successful events in the past, George said.

Suffolk’s National Night Out has set the theme for the 2009 observance as “Leading Suffolk: Our Future … Our Responsibility.”

For more information about National Night Out, visit www.suffolknno.org.