Scores of police, firefighters and other emergency personnel attended dozens of neighborhood watch block parties across the city during the annual National Night Out Tuesday night.
The event, which was held nationwide, aims to connect neighbors and emergency workers in a friendly atmosphere.
Stepping out of his patrol car, Officer Brian Laurence walked over to a group of Pleasanton children playing near a cul-de-sac. One girl recognized him and immediately went running to give him a big hug.
"Hey, girls!" he said as children walked by holding cotton candy. "Are you having fun?"
The Pleasanton police lieutenant was among emergency personnel who attended neighborhood watch block parties across the city.
Chief Dave Spiller said the event is as much for neighbors to get to know one another as it is for residents to get to know officers. Even high-ranking officers, including the chief, attended neighborhood gatherings.
It's no secret that public perception of police has been a contentious point across the country. It's events like this, Laurence said, that keep residents connected in order to "put a face to the police department."
When thinking about the nation's opinion of police, "it's not at its zenith," he said. "You constantly have to work to overcome that stereotype."
So Laurence made a point to kneel down when a 4-year-old asked him a question. That way, he'd be eye-to-eye, and she'd see his smile. When a child ran up to him, he greeted them with a hug or high-five and a toy wrist band.
He's attended National Night Out for about 12 years, and he said he's seen it make a difference. Often, residents only interact with police when they're reporting -- or involved with -- a crime. But he's noticed residents who get to know officers during the evening sometimes feel more comfortable reporting crimes because they feel officers will listen to them.
Chief Dave Spiller sat with retired residents at a gathering at Pleasanton Gardens senior housing Tuesday evening, eating bbq and asking about any issues they've faced with crime.
"This is really important for us to connect with the community," Spiller said.
Nadina White, administrator at Pleasanton Gardens, said organizing a large meal for officers and other officials was worth all the effort. She had her children join in the preparation so they could understand officers "are here to protect us."
"Serving the people who serve us, it's an awesome opportunity for us," she said.