COVID-19 prompts changes to National Night Out celebrations in San Antonio area

San Antonio cancels its ‘Neighbors Together’ night, while Converse focused on a central event

COVID-19 pumps brakes on National Night Out turnout

SAN ANTONIO – National Night Out on Tuesday was a more subdued affair in the San Antonio area as the region comes out of a third COVID-19 surge.

The City of San Antonio and San Antonio Police Department canceled its “Neighbors Together” night more than a month in advance, due to COVID-19 case numbers. In nearby Converse, the city pushed ahead with its celebrations, though it focused on a central event at North Park, rather than numerous, smaller neighborhood events.

National Night Out is an annual initiative meant to bring law enforcement officers and the communities they serve together through local events. While most of the country celebrates it on the first Tuesday of August, Texas recognizes it on the first Tuesday of October.

Though SAPD has transitioned to a similar initiative it calls “Neighbors Together,” it kept the same date as National Night Out “to avoid confusion,” SAPD Assistant to the Director Joe Frank Picazo told KSAT.

However, he said, they are different events.

Whereas National Night Out was a single night of activity to stamp out crime, we made the point that it’s a year-long event, it’s a year-long effort. So, we really encourage neighborhoods, to do events throughout the year, not just one night a year,” Picazo said.

Picazo said the new initiative allows for more flexibility for local sponsorship and creating events “that were more reflective of San Antonio.”

Whatever its name, Picazo said the decision to cancel the initiative was made weeks ago, when concerns about the Delta variant were peaking.

You’re talking hundreds of dollars, or thousands of dollars for stages, venues and food. Not knowing with certainty what COVID would look like in October, the decision was made to cancel in August with ample opportunity for neighborhoods to alter their plans prior to the expense of all the planning,” he said.

Picazo said the department understood “a handful, maybe less than a dozen neighborhoods that are still planning an event of some type, as well as some other organizations.”

Officers would make it a point to stop by those that were still going on, he said.

One such group pushing ahead was Family Service, which switched its plans to a drive-thru event, as it had done in 2020.

Really, what National Night is all about to help families and neighbors connect. That’s part of that social community engagement that, in today’s world with all the COVID isolation, this is more important now than ever,” said President and CEO Mary Garr.

Though the 350 carloads of people who registered in advance wouldn’t have the same chance to mingle, Family Service officials said they would still get handouts like food, gas cards, and activities, as well as information on various community resources.

Meanwhile, Converse pushed ahead with its National Night Out celebrations, drawing hundreds of people to Converse Park North for a central event. Police Chief Bobby Lane has been in his role less than a year, but he’s heard there are usually more satellite events out in the neighborhoods.

There were still a few neighborhood events this year, the chief said, but “we wanted the community to come together.”

And while COVID-19 cases were peaking around the time San Antonio made its decision, the case numbers have been falling since, which Converse took as a sign to go ahead.

Of course, we’re going to ask people to mask up where they can,” Lane said ahead of Tuesday’s event, though there ended up being few masked attendees in sight once it began. “We’re out in the open, and just be careful. We decided we were going to go ahead and go with it this year, and let’s make it happen. It’s time to bring the communities back together.”

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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.