People across the U.S. will take to the streets tonight to get to know their local police officers. The annual National Night Out has taken on greater urgency in the wake of the shooting of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge in the past month, reports the Christian Science Monitor. “When it’s done right, it’s almost like small-town America in the big cities,” Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The annual event on the first Tuesday in August was started in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch, with 400 communities participating. Matt Peskin, the group’s president, believes 16,500 communities will participate tonight, up from 16,000 last year.
“With the climate in the past two years, it’s extremely important that we celebrate National Night Out to show the unity among each other,” says Washington, D.C., assistant police chief Diane Groomes. Her department hosts community events throughout the summer with that purpose in mind. “We have a thing called Beat the Street where we bring music to the streets and with outreach tables from many social services,” Groomes says. “Black Lives Matter came out and spoke to us and said they appreciated how the police department is doing outreach versus just law enforcement.”