Santa Maria police officers mingled with adults and kids Tuesday evening, letting them don bulletproof gear and sit behind the steering wheel of a patrol car as part of a national effort to fight crime.

Residents in Santa Maria and Lompoc gathered to stand up against crime with separate events to mark the 31st annual National Night Out.

“I think this is wonderful to have this,” Mayor Alice Patino said. “It’s really nice to get the community out to something like this with public safety. They need to know what their taxes are going for. It’s good for both sides.

“This is neat.”

This marked the second time Santa Maria participated in National Night Out, according to Police Chief Ralph Martin, who noted he implemented community policing in the department.

“This National Night Out has kind of a grown out of that,” Martin added.

The Santa Maria event to celebrate police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie occurred from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Veterans’ Memorial Community Park, 313 W. Tunnell St. in Santa Maria.

This event was hosted by the Santa Maria Police Department, the Recreation and Parks Department and the People for Leisure And Youth, Inc. (PLAY, Inc.).

Santa Maria police officers hand out steering wheel “clubs” and other items during the National Night Out event Tuesday outside the Veterans’ Memorial Community Center in northwest Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Maria traffic officers reminded people about the dangers of drinking and driving. A nearby booth let visitors don intoxication goggles that simulate being drunk.

A crumpled car sitting across the park provided a reminder of the consequences of distracted and drunken driving.

“Drunk driving does have a hold on our community,” Officer Andy Brice said. “It’s a problem across the nation, but here we do have a high rate of drunk-driving collisions. That’s kind of our theme this year, hoping that folks realize the impact of the choices they make.”

Churches, organizations, businesses, the military and city departments set up booths, offering giveaways to the hundreds of children and adults who attended.

From coloring books and steering wheel locking tools to hot dogs and handshakes from law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel, hundreds of children and adults collected various items at booths set up in the park.

The event included activities and demonstrations provided by the Recreation and Parks Department, local law enforcement, fire, military, and medical response teams. Free food, youth activities, vendors, and more were available.

The Calstar air ambulance provided a flight demonstration before landing in the street as attendees pointed their cameras.

The Santa Maria Noontime Kiwanis barbecued 1,000 hot dogs that were given away for free to those who attended.

In Lompoc, the Police Department hosted a block party for National Night Out in the parking lot at Lompoc High School from 5 to 8 p.m.

Representatives from local businesses, law enforcement agencies and churches provided displays, activities and food at the free event in Lompoc.

National Night Out started in 1984 as an effort to promote public involvement in crime-prevention activities while building partnerships with law enforcement and local communities. The event is now celebrated by more than 37 million people in over 16,000 communities throughout all 50 states.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.