BALTIMORE - Behind the music, dancing, face painting and food of National Night Out events, Baltimore law enforcement works to build trust and understanding with city residents. Some residents say both are sorely lacking.
"I see children right now who actually cry when they see the police, because of the things that are going on," says mother Aryis Barnes. "I do believe their presence needs to be known."
Dozens of police officers, sheriffs deputies, firefighters and politicians joined in on the carnival-like atmosphere outside of Mondawmin Mall and at other locations across the city. Many said the face time does help their perception of city leaders.
"When you can get up close and personal with somebody as opposed to just watching them on television, when someone comes and has a conversation with you, it means a lot more," said Eitak Scriber of Baltimore.
The 30-year-old tradition took a different tone this year, as Baltimore finds itself in "challenging times," according to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. His department has been federally mandated to change as part of consent decree reforms. The city has also suffered over 200 homicides so far this year.
"I applaud each and every Baltimorean who comes out tonight and says this isn't what represents our city," Davis said.
He said events like National Night Out give a great opportunity for officers and communities to find common ground.
"We want the same things that everybody else wants," Davis says. "We want people to put the guns down. We want people to peaceful. We want people to work with each other, help police when crime is committed."
Davis, Mayor Catherine Pugh and State's Attorney Marylin Mosby traveled to several city events throughout the evening.
Across the country, it's estimated that about 38 million people participate in National Night Out every year.