County's 'Night Out' Finds Leaders on Patrol

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, ignores scorching heat to join the bike parade on Schoolfield Court in Centreville.
Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, ignores scorching heat to join the bike parade on Schoolfield Court in Centreville.
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

You would expect David M. Rohrer, the Fairfax County police chief, to be cruising the county on National Night Out last week, checking in on some of the 146 gatherings of neighborhood watch groups. But you might not expect that he was joined, for the fourth straight year, by Gerald E. Connolly, the garrulous and tireless chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

The two met about 4 p.m. at Camelot Elementary School in Annandale and spent the next five hours dropping in on barbecues and bike parades, chatting about the police department and comparing notes on many of the communities they've gotten to know in their years running Fairfax County.

Here are some of the highlights of those hours:

· 4:30 p.m., Camelot Elementary School: It was blindingly hot; the heat index was about 115 degrees. But on a stage behind Camelot Elementary School, Connolly insisted on wearing his blue blazer while a series of speeches launched National Night Out. It was a night of extensive perspiration for the chairman. Rohrer noted that Camelot's Neighborhood Watch program has existed for 28 years, one of the oldest in the nation. The average group lasts 18 months.

· 5:15 p.m., Westlawn Neighborhood Watch, Falls Church: Fans were set up to try to cool the two dozen neighbors gathered to eat from vast plates of meats, slaws and brownies. Police officers and firefighters showed up occasionally, and Rohrer said that officers had been encouraged to visit groups in their districts that night and spend a little time getting to know them. Burl Siemers, one of the hosts, said it had become harder to get folks involved in Neighborhood Watch, and also to get them to come out on 100-degree days. For the first of many times, Connolly had difficulty stopping talking to people and leaving. It is an election year.

· 6 p.m., Middleridge Neighborhood Watch, Burke: Middleridge had taken over a park, rented a stage and invited a woman from Reptiles Alive to show off huge snakes to wide-eyed kids. A live band was scheduled to follow, and the turnout was good. There were face-painting and information booths, a real festival. The watch coordinator, Michael Proffitt, is also a police officer. Rohrer mingled inconspicuously. Connolly kept talking. Many people he knew. Some he met for the first time, which sparked a discussion when Connolly finally returned to the car, about who was an introvert and who was an extrovert. No real surprises there.

· 6:30 p.m., Sully Station II, Centreville: Rohrer and Connolly try to hit a different part of the county each year, and this year it was the west, specifically the Sully area. In Sully Station II, just off Stone Road, the Neighborhood Watch had parties going in six communities and an ice cream social at the community center, coordinator Dan Jenuleson said. On Linden Creek Court, there were bike and skateboard events for the kids, a makeshift rock band hammering out Red Hot Chili Peppers in front of a garage, and a battalion of youths armed with powerful squirt guns. The mingling officers didn't seem to mind getting sprayed.

· 7 p.m., Sully Station II, Wood Creek Lane: Word had spread that Wood Creek Lane had the best food, with quality fried fish, shrimp and lemonade. While Connolly rehydrated and met with a man who proclaimed himself the "mayor of Wood Creek Lane," coordinator Leslie Jenuleson said the watch group just kept getting bigger and bigger. She said the police alert her to crime situations, and she or her husband send out e-mails to more than 900 members. "It's a lot of fun, very rewarding," she said. Connolly, again, seemed hard pressed to leave the crowd.

· 7:30 p.m., Sully Station II, Schoolfield Court: A massive bike parade was organized in the cul de sac, and the arrival of the police chief and the board chairman created a buzz of excitement. Parents tried to organize the kids for a large photo, and at one point a mother yelled, "Nobody move." Rohrer joked, "That's my line." A 2-year-old with a spray toy was a popular fellow and watered down the police chief's knees. Rohrer later joined the line of young bikers and then donned the star glasses of 12-year-old Emily Granruth.

· 8:15 p.m., Fairfax Circle area: It was dark, but Rohrer and Connolly were still searching for action, though some parties had wrapped up. Rohrer and Connolly both said the aim of their visits, in some years, is to boost community morale and keep the watch groups going. This year, in tight-knit areas such as Sully, "it's really more about showing the flag," Rohrer said.

The trip ended at Connolly's house at 9 p.m., a standard long day for both men.

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