Sgt. Mario Nunez remembered it happening as clear as day. Pulling up in his patrol car about 17 years ago in the neighborhood along Delano's Dover Place between 1st Avenue and 3rd Avenue. What was unfolding in front of the Delano Police officer? A huge fight between two families with a long history in the neighborhood.
At the same time, then 70-something old Ethel Pickering pulled up in her car and began yelling at her family members to stop advancing toward the other family in the street and go back to their homes. And luckily for Pickering and Nunez, that's exactly what happened.
"I remember telling her, 'Wouldn't it be something, that a few years in the future, we will have a barbecue between the two families, and party in the streets?'" Nunez said on April 29, during the police department's second Neighborhood Block Party. Now using a walker to get around, Pickering shook her head, "Yes, I remember," almost chuckling.
Nearly 1,000 Delano residents came out to that party at which DPD Commander Raul Alvizo personally flipped hamburgers and hot dogs for everyone in attendance.
Delano Police Chief Robert Nevarez recalls a block party he was part of 20 years ago.
A grandmother called him over and confided that because of the block party she was actually able to enjoy her front yard with her grandkids; something she had never been able to do with her own children. She simply felt it was safer in the backyard. Nevarez always harkens back to this exchange when deciding which neighborhoods to select for block parties today.
Nevarez has a burning vision that all Delano streets will be a safe venue for families to enjoy.
“When I drive around town and see children and their parents enjoying neighborhood parks, I believe my officers and I are doing our jobs,” he said.
The agency's previous Westside block party had been selected because it was the site of a drive-by shooting that killed two men last summer.
Delano Police Community Service Officer Rafael Silva and Corporal Jose Madrigal put together the April 29 event, just like they did the agency's first one back on Feb. 21. This event was even bigger with 32 booths and sponsors, and more people attending, Silva said.
It is part of Chief Nevarez's mantra to have his officers create community-based programs and follow them through to completion. The goal is to solidify trust that must exist between the community and the police department.
Other Delano police officer-inspired community events have included:
On Dec. 20, the first ever Hispanic Residents Academy Graduation organized by Corporal Jose Madrigal. With plans to have another six-week academy starting next week.
In November, another officer started up a program with the Delano Union School District school to reach out to students who are at risk of falling behind in school or getting in trouble. The method: using everyday table games and most importantly, the time provided by officers. It started at Albany Park, but will likely be used in other district schools.
On Oct. 26, Nevarez and his officers literally were “Choppin’ It Up” with Delano residents looking to get haircuts at Carlos’ Barbershop or Almas’s Beauty Salon next to each other on High Street. The agency had meet-the-community sessions and some tri-tip and light refreshments.
On Oct. 22, officers were part of a successful Neighborhood Watch meeting at the Sunny View apartments — with more than 100 people attending, organized by Sergeant Richard Stites.
Just last week, officers organized the first “Cafe con Campesinos” where officers interacted with farm laborers to build vital trust with this segment of the community.
Those new events came on top of the agency's previous annual community events such as National Night Out on Aug. 7, Trunk or Treat Celebration on Oct. 29, and of course, the agency’s Shop with a Cop in December.
“As we host our second block party our goal is the same," Silva said. "Our goal is to take back the streets from crime and give the neighborhood a opportunity to come out and interact with us and most importantly, their own neighbors also.
"The best feeling about this event is the smiles that people have from the vendors to the people in attendance and the children enjoying their time at our event," he added. "I’m very humble to have have vendors who made it out and made a difference today, they are a big part of this event and also thank you to Delano Chevrolet for sponsoring this event.”
Kern County District 4 Supervisor David Couch also attended the agency's event.
“I think Chief Nevarez and the department have it right," Couch said. "People should be able to enjoy their neighborhoods and feel safe in their front yards.”
“It’s such a positive thing for the police to connect to the people in an event like this," he added. "I hope this continues. Every police department in every community should be doing this.”