By Joseph Ruzich
Special to the Tribune
CHICAGO — Cicero resident Stephanie Avan said many students at her high school say the police are out to get them. Until recently, the Morton East High School sophomore felt the same way.
"I just didn't want to be around them," said Stephanie, 15. "I didn't trust them."
But she said her opinion began to change last February when she joined Corazon, an anti-violence organization in Cicero, and met local police officers.
"I learned that they are pretty cool," she said. "They really just want to help us out."
Dozens of high school students, many from Corazon, chatted and played games with officers on the campus of Morton College near 3800 S. Central Ave. on Tuesday evening as they celebrated National Night Out, which also took place in other municipalities in the area and across the United States and Canada.
The event, designed to strengthen neighborhood spirit and police community partnerships, was attended by more than 34 million people in over 10,000 communities last year, according to the event's organizer. National Night Out gives people a chance to interact with police officers in a friendly, fun environment, usually in a summer picnic or outdoor festival atmosphere.
In Berwyn, thousands of residents attended Tuesday's event. Besides visiting with law-enforcement officials, they grabbed a bite to eat, watched an airplane flyover by the Illinois State Police and enjoyed a fireworks show.
Many residents talked with Berwyn Detective Michael Ochsner, who displayed illegal drugs at his booth, including an 18-pound, plastic-wrapped brick of marijuana.
"I hope this display will help parents better identify what drugs look like," he said. "This display gives them the chance to see the real thing."
Natalie Guerrero, 14, of Berwyn said she enjoys coming to the event every year to watch the demonstrations. "I thought the burn was awesome" said Natalie, who watched firefighters extinguish a controlled fire of household furniture in a large wooden pod.
Maywood held a small barbecue at a park near First Avenue and Oak Street.
Maywood resident Doreen McGee, 40, a mother of two boys, said events like this keep children out of trouble.
"It's good for them to come out for some food and visit with the police," she said. "You have to keep kids busy."
Copyright 2007 Chicago Tribune Company
Chicago teenagers, police build ties during National Night Out