Several hundred people attended the National Night Out event Tuesday evening at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, organized by local first responders. National Night Out began in August 1984 when a network of law enforcement agencies and community groups urged people to turn on their porch lights and sit outside to prevent crime.

What started as an event with 2.5 million neighbors in 23 states has grown to 38 million neighbors in 16,000 communities across the nation, according to the event’s original organizers, National Organization of Town Watch.

Pine Bluff Assistant Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said the event offered a chance for local police, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and national guardsmen to get to know community members and vice versa.

“Often, the only contact [people have with police] is a traffic stop,” Sergeant said. “It’s an opportunity to interact and engage with them.”

Many who came out for the event were children, who took advantage of video games, bounce houses, raffles, basketball competitions and free food. Sergeant said the Pine Bluff Police Department’s Service Division begins planning for the event two months in advance. They prepare for up to 3,000 people to attend by ordering 1,500 hot dogs and 1,500 hamburgers. Each attendee was given a ticket for a free hot dog or hamburger, chips and a drink. Pine Bluff Transit provided free bus rides to the event for local residents.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office also had a heavy presence at the event.

More than 50 volunteers from local first responders manned game booths, raffled off door prizes and dished out treats such as popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones. City agencies and community organizations set up more than 20 booths to provide information. They included police department partners such as the Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides a safe and child-friendly environment for children and Child Protective Services to interview children who are the alleged victims of crimes. Sergeant commended Lt. Hosea Thompson and Sgt. Melissa Vilches of the service division for their organization of the event.