The city of Hesperia recently celebrated National Night Out along with a crowd of hundreds who came to learn about crime prevention and safety and a chance to get to know their neighbors.

Celebrated nationally since 1985, the National Night Out program is intended to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for participation in local anticrime programs and strengthen neighborhood spirit, according to the official website for National Night Out.

Neighborhood spirit was definitely palpable in the packed Target parking lot Aug. 7, with local band The Working Poets playing classic oldies, children getting to sit in the cockpit of a police helicopter, live bobcats and alligators, and even an appearance by Smokey the Bear.

"The purpose of National Night Out is to give crime and drugs a going-away party," said Sue Rose, public affairs officer for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Hesperia station, which also hosted the event. "I want it to put a special emphasis on what makes the High Desert a great place to work and live in."

Out of the many groups that were represented, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department was one of the most popular due to their grand entrance of landing in one of the fleet's helicopters. After the dust settled down, there was a constant line of parents with their children waiting their turn have their picture taken in the cockpit.

San Bernardino Co. Sgt. Dan Futscher said it was one of six helicopters used county-wide to assist in patrolling, pursuits and searches. Futscher added that it was one of the helicopters many have seen out at night with its searchlight on. Futscher said they also coordinate with emergency services on search-and-rescue missions.

Safety and emergency preparedness were common themes of many organizations present that night, with scouts from Boy Scout Troop 18 and Cub Scout Pack 18 demonstrating first aid techniques such as how to fashion a stretcher from a blanket and two sticks.

The Bureau of Land Management showcased a Ranger Rail, an off-road vehicle used for access to desert areas in search-and-rescue missions, specifically around the Dumont Dunes area. The vehicle, which can reach speeds of up to 70 mph, is also used for preventing and fighting crime in the desert.

Students of all ages from Speakman's New Breed Martial Arts performed demonstrations of different fighting disciplines they had learned while boxers from the Police Activities League showed off their footwork to the delight of the crowd. Members of the Sage Brush Shufflers, a square-dancing club that offers classes in Hesperia, were resplendent in their period dresses.

Last year 37 million people in 15,325 communities participated in the National Night Out in all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and U.S. military bases worldwide, according to the National Night Out website. Hesperia has been participating in the annual program since 2004.