"How's everyone today?" Mayor Thurston "Smitty" Smith asked, approaching two boys sitting by a bounce house, his hand out.

On Tuesday night, Hesperians around the city cooked hot dogs, listened to music, ate snow cones and met with emergency personnel, city officials and their neighbors in an attempt to strengthen ties and make their neighborhoods safer.

Celebrated in Hesperia since 2006, National Night Out takes place on the first Tuesday in August and was celebrated by more than 37 million people in 15,000 communities in 2008.
 
On Tuesday, approximately 40 San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department personnel, San Bernardino County Fire Department employees, Citizens On Patrol volunteers, city staffers, city council members and McGruff the Crime Dog spread out in eight teams across the city, rotating through eight different block parties around Hesperia.

Lance Clark, the captain of the Hesperia sheriff's station, drove Smith and Councilman Paul Bosacki to the first of four stops that evening: The San Remo Apartments on Santa Fe Avenue.

Although the block parties varied in size, tone and musical selections, there were some unifying elements: Bounce houses, popcorn poppers and hot dogs. And at each stop, the fire department were big stars, with children clamoring to meet Sparky the Fire Dog and inspect the fire truck he rode in on.

"Fire dog!" yelled one of the boys first approached by Smith at the block party. "Fire dog!"

Sparky gave one of them a high-five.

"How you guys like living here?" a firefighter asked a mother standing by her child in line to meet Sparky and get a badge sticker.

"It's quiet," she said. "Nice place."

"The cops were here for this guy," a resident told Smith. "They talked to him, but they didn't take him. ... Most of the people here are pretty good. And the ones that are bad aren't that bad; you just need to keep an eye on them."

"The cancer starts and it can grow real quick," Smith agreed.

"Yeah," the resident said. "Then you wonder what happened."

At an apartment complex on Topaz Avenue, where Clark had investigated crimes years ago as a detective, and Bosacki vividly remembers a murder occurring several years ago, the mood was casual, with children lining up for balloon animals and residents sit around the pool, eating grilled corn on the cob.

"How's it goin' tonight?" Clark asked a man on the way to the party.

"Jus' tryin' not to get arrested by the police," the man said.

"Half of us are the police." Clark was wearing his gun, but wasn't in uniform or wearing a nametag.

"I'm just messing with you," the man laughed.

On Alta Dena Street, Sublime and Rage Against the Machine blasted from a pair of speakers as a neighbor cooked up tacos.

"I remember you," a man said, walking up to Smith, hand out to shake his hand. "I'll be glad when they fix the street."

"Hey, Paul Bosacki, first year," the councilman introduced himself. "They got nothin' but hot dogs everywhere else. They got real food here!"

But in between the laughter, he and Smith talked with residents about the foreclosed homes that dot the street and, more troublingly, the fenced-off homes that were abandoned, half-built, when the builder ran out of money when the housing market crashed.

"I like doing this," Smith said, after Clark dropped him back off in the parking lot of the sheriff's station back on Santa Fe Avenue. "Connecting with people."

Nationally, the program is organized by the National Association of Town Watch and sponsored by Target stores. Locally, Hesperia's National Night Out is organized by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and sponsored by local businesses.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.