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National Night Out recognized locally

LAWRENCEVILLE - As part of a national effort to stamp out crime, several local agencies will participate tonight in the 26th annual National Night Out.

Overall, more than 37 million people are expected to participate in the event.

Organized in 1984 by the National Association of Town watch, a nonprofit, crime-prevention organization, National Night Out is designed to not only heighten awareness about crime and drug prevention, but generate support for anti-crime efforts and strengthen neighborhood spirit and relationships with law enforcement.

Locally, several agencies are slated to hold their own events, the biggest of which will be in Hall County. There, the sheriff's department, the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Hall County and Gainesville fire departments and several local police departments will converge at Memorial Park North Riverside Chapel in Gainesville.

Beginning at 6 p.m., they will present two hours of safety seminars on topics such as preventing accidental injury, 911 education and neighborhood watch.

Gainesville police Master Police Officer Joe Britte said his department will use booths and displays - including a DUI cart that uses goggles to simulate driving drunk - to help hammer home the message of crime prevention in an atmosphere of "free food and fun."

"It's sort of like an eye-opening experience for folks to realize you have to watch out for your property and your neighborhood," Britte said. "This is a unique way for spreading word that prevention is better than cure."

In Snellville, Chief Roy Whitehead said officers will be at Target and Old Navy with informative static displays and entertainment, including jump castles, for kids.

"We want to send out that our community is pulling together to help prevent crime," Whitehead said. "The whole purpose is to build partners."

For more information about National Night Out or to see a complete list of participating Georgia agencies, visit www.nationtownwatch.org.