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Deputy Annett Smith wasn't sure exactly how many people showed up for the annual National Safe Night Out event held Tuesday night at the Clarendon Community Center behind Weldon Auditorium.
"I would imagine it was more than 500, maybe even 750," she said. "We were absolutely packed inside, and they had a line outside waiting to get in. What we eventually did was move the school supplies outside."
She said she knows that, due to fire codes, at least 200 people could not enter the event, which serves "as a community-building campaign promoting police and community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make neighborhoods safer and better places to live," according to www.natw.org.
"This event is held nationwide each August, on the first Tuesday," said state Constable Lawrence Hammett, who also works for the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office.
Smith said this year's event took on a new importance in light of several shooting incidents in recent memory.
"We've had such negative things going on nationwide, and we want people to see that there is a positive side to law enforcement," she said. "This is about briding the gap, and letting children and their parents know that we are here for them."
Though National Night Out was first started in 1984, Clarendon County first held the event in 2004 in Summerton, its location for a decade. In 2014 and 2015, the event was split between Summerton and Manning.
"I think it's good for us to hold one one year, and then two the next," Smith said. "I think that due to the overwhelming crowd we had this year, we probably will have to do two in the future."
Retired State Law Enforcement Division Officer and S.C. Highway Patrol trooper Darren Wilson, 2004 National Trooper of the Year, was the event's keynote speaker.
A native of Clarendon County, Wilson said he began his career in 1997 with the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office.
"As of Monday, there have been 69 officers killed in the line of duty this year," he said. "Peacemakers must sometimes enforce the peace by taking troublemakers into custody and punishing them."
Wilson said there are bad officers out there, as any group may have a few "bad apples."
"But people shouldn't take the actions of a few to represent the whole," he said.
After the speech, attendees had the chance to visit more than 15 booths with various information and gifts. Smith said that more than 325 backpacks were given away.
"They were filled with notebooks, folders, paper, pencils and pens," she said.