Correction to This Article
A remark by Virginia Tech's James E. HawdonĂ– on community policing efforts was incorrectly reported in an article in the July 27 Fairfax Extra. Hawdon said that indirect evidence suggests that such programs may make residents more likely to alert police or to intervene when they witness suspicious activity. He was reported as saying that evidence does not suggest that.

On Tuesday, a Chance to Combine Crime-Fighting Work With Pleasure

By C. Woodrow Irvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fairfax County police officials are asking residents to turn on all of their outdoor lights, leave their homes and join their neighbors outside Tuesday evening for the 23rd annual National Night Out to raise awareness of community crime prevention efforts.

Many neighborhoods and homeowners associations sponsor activities as part of the event, including block parties, cookouts, parades and anti-crime rallies. Police officers visit neighborhoods to garner support for citizen and police crime-fighting programs. Police Chief David M. Rohrer is scheduled to visit several neighborhoods.

Participation extends to municipalities as well. In Fairfax City, coordinators plan to involve not only the city police but also campus police from George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College, as well as the city's volunteer fire department. In Herndon, a motorcade that is scheduled to visit neighborhoods will include fire and rescue vehicles as well as Dulles Airport police and State Police vehicles.

National Night Out, sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, has grown since it began in 1984. The association created it to promote police and community partnerships to prevent crime. Four hundred communities in 23 states participated in the first National Night Out. Officials expect Tuesday's event to involve 34 million people in 10,000 communities across every state.

James E. Hawdon, an associate professor of sociology at Virginia Tech who has studied community policing and crime prevention programs, said that initiatives such as National Night Out and community watch programs can indirectly affect crime. "The type of activities that go on -- the barbecuing, the flashlight walks -- . . . do have an effect, at least short-term, in enhancing social capital and the feelings of connectedness among residents," he said.

But Hawdon said that the evidence does not suggest that such programs make residents more likely to alert police or to intervene directly when they witness suspicious activity. He also said that studies have shown that community policing programs can create disproportional, though short-lived, fear in some people by drawing extra attention to crime.

According to Hawdon, initiating a program such as National Night Out can have a positive effect if it is a component of a larger effort to combat crime directly. "It's a part of the puzzle," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company