Charles County marked National Night Out on Tuesday with block parties and house calls throughout the county as well as a visit from Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R).

At the Moose Family Center in Waldorf, Steele commended the deputies who had just finished training last Sunday.

"God bless you for what you're about to do," Steele said. "It's not an easy thing to do to put on a uniform and deal with the numb nuts you're going to deal with."

A large crowd of law enforcement and county officials applauded, including Sheriff Frederick E. Davis (R), Maryland State Police Superintendent Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins and four county commissioners.

Steele said National Night Out should "remind those who wish to flout the law that we're a heartbeat behind them and ready to step on them and cause them great pain."

The first step in that reminder came in the Sheffield neighborhood of St. Charles, where a moon bounce was set up on the street alongside large stacks of pizzas and a cotton candy machine.

National Night Out is observed by turning on porch lights and hosting outdoor events that bring law enforcement officers together with citizens to raise awareness about crime.

More than 34 million people participated last year in some 10,000 communities nationwide, according to information posted on the event's Web site, www.nationaltownwatch.org/nno/about.html. This year, 128 neighborhoods in the county participated in National Night Out, up from 124 last year, the Sheriff's Office said.

On the street in Sheffield on Tuesday evening, deputies introduced themselves to the three dozen or so residents who had come outside in the still-stifling summer heat.

Antoine Blades, 15, Devon Ockimey, 17, and Dominique Barnes, 17, all of Sheffield, huddled together with plain slices of pizza in hand.

They greeted a deputy they had met before and then largely stood back.

The attraction of the event was simple for Ockimey: "I was hungry. They had some food." But Blades was more expansive.

"This is a good way to get to meet everyone around the neighborhood," he said.

By then, Steele -- who was accompanied by Davis and county commissioners -- had taken off his suit jacket and tie, and unbuttoned the sleeves of his shirt.

He shook hands with almost everyone except 4-year-old Cameron Duncan, who got a friendly squeeze on the stomach.

The teenagers hanging back said they didn't know him, but they did recognize Davis.

Barnes told the sheriff that he was in school with Davis's son.

"What's your name?" Davis asked. "I'll let him know that I saw you."

The motorcade with Davis, Steele and county dignitaries then sped across Route 301 to the Hampshire Lake neighborhood near Westlake High School, passing streets along the way where deputies were going door-to-door to introduce themselves.

At the lake, a miniature train chugged past a barbecue set up by the Charles County Dive Rescue team, whose members had stacked beef patties on the rear bumper of their truck.

Nearby, some enterprising citizens set up a booth to sell cruise ship trips.

Law enforcement officials mixed throughout.

Greg Buxa, a Coast Guardsman who recently moved from Alaska to Waldorf, said that neighbors on both sides of his house are sheriff's deputies.

He said he had never heard of National Night Out, but he brought his three children out in the stroller for this mini carnival.

Throughout the evening's events, authorities stressed that it was only through the public's watchful eye that law enforcement could cut down on crime.

"This is where we're recognizing citizen input in crime prevention and terrorism [prevention]," Hutchins said.

Shayne Stanley, a motorcycle officer who works in the traffic operations unit, pointed out that community awareness is not just about crimes such as breaking and entering; it also includes traffic enforcement -- an important task in light of all the vehicle fatalities in Charles so far this year.

"I personally take all the calls from the neighbors," he said. "And they've absolutely got my number."

Sheriff's explorers and cadets, accompanied by McGruff the Crime Dog, center, and his nephew Scruff, listen to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele speak on National Night Out.