Looking menacing in its matte black paint job, Huntington Beach's armored SWAT vehicle sat in the parking lot at Target. Four-year-old Reese Post-Franco slowly walked toward it with his mother and brother, calling it simply "the big one."
Reese was among about 100 people gathered at the store at Adams Avenue and Brookhurst Street on Tuesday for National Night Out, a nationwide event established in 1984 as a way to encourage the public to contact local law enforcement about suspicious activity.
"These events are really important because it brings the community together and introduces them to the police officers," said Huntington Beach resident Gina Post-Franco, Reese's mother. "It shows that they're approachable so that if there were a crime in progress, they would feel like they could approach a police officer and let them know.
"Most of the time, police officers are very willing to listen," said Post-Franco, 39, who is general manager for Post Alarm Systems. "They just need to know that something's happening, and they're very willing to respond to that."
"One of the purposes of tonight is security and safety," said Nilda Berndt, community relations specialist for the Huntington Beach Police Department. "It's about learning to be good witnesses, making good choices and reporting things that are suspicious and don't look right."
Tuesday marked Huntington Beach's sixth year of participation in National Night Out. The Police Department brought its SWAT vehicle as well as one of its police dogs. The Fire Department was there briefly with one of its trucks but had to leave to respond to an emergency call.
Food vendors sold carne asada fries and shaved ice.
Todd and Connie Brown of Rancho Santa Margarita gathered around the back of the SWAT vehicle as their son, Colin, looked inside.
They made their way to Surf City for the event and to visit family in the area. Todd Brown, 43, said it's important for people to report crime.
"A lot of people are afraid ... but you need to do it," he said.
Police Lt. Russell Reinhart manned the Orange County Crime Stoppers table, informing people about how they can submit a tip anonymously.
"It's screened for what agency it belongs to, what the information is and who's trying to solve the crime," he said. "For example, car burglars don't stick in one city. That's why we [law enforcement agencies] pooled up and did this together."
As an incentive, anyone who provides a tip that leads to an arrest will be given a reward of up to $1,000, Reinhart said.
Huntington Beach is offering a $5,000 reward ($1,000 from Orange County Crime Stoppers and $4,000 from the Police Department) to anyone who can help officers solve the killing of a man in the city in May.
Todd Brown said he has yet to report suspicious activity where he lives, but he said he would immediately contact police if the need arises.
"Especially when you have little ones," said Connie Brown, 35. "You don't want them to be in harm's way."
To report a crime through Crime Stoppers, call (855) TIP-OCCS (847-6227).