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Santa Monica Celebrates National Night Out

By Jorge Casuso

More than 1,000 Santa Monicans took to the streets Tuesday evening to show their solidarity against crime one month after an Independence Day shootout and hostage takeover on the pier threatened the city's image as a safe destination.

The seventh annual National Night Out was a time for the City to tout its public safety achievements and for residents to showcase their sense of community.

"This is my favorite event of the year because we have a chance to get together and celebrate what it means to be a community," said Police Chief James T. Butts Jr. "We have those strong ties to one another that make us an exceptional place."

Butts told the crowd gathered at Palisades Park that Santa Monica had seen a marked drop in serious crime, which fell 9 percent last year and 55 percent since 1993. He added that serious crime was down another 5 percent so far this year.

"As a community, we get high marks for getting things done," Butts said. "One of those things we do well is provide for public safety."

Butts noted that Santa Monica is the destination for some 7 million visitors a year, with four million people visiting the Third Street Promenade and three and a half million visiting the pier. And he acknowledged the three officers who were wounded during the July 4 shootout with a reputed gang member.

"The measure of a community is not so much how it handles prosperity, but how it handles adversity," Butts said. "Our Promenade and our pier are safe places where families go to have good clean fun. They deserve our support."

Santa Monica was one of 9,500 communities nationwide that participated in the annual event, which was expected to draw more than 30 million people. The Santa Monica Police Department's celebration of National Night Out has won national awards for the last six years.

Participants in the march were treated to free food from Trader Joe's, 7 Eleven and El Cholo restaurant, as well as music by D.J. Tony Harris, dance and karate demonstrations, face painting, and goodie bags for kids.

The event this year coincided with Butts' 47th birthday, and the crowd joined in singing Happy Birthday to the police chief.

"Whenever someone asks what I did on my birthday in the year 2000," Butts said, "I can honestly tell them, 'I got together with a few thousand of my friends and had a party in Palisades Park '"
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