Samantha Duke's Rochester home became a neighborhood hub on Tuesday evening.
There were picnic tables scattered in the half-circle driveway, kids playing with toys on the front lawn, and plenty of neighbors — plus Rochester Police Chief James Franklin — hovering around food in the garage.
Duke, a 37-year-old Mayo Clinic employee, missed her chance to host a community party for National Night Out last year due to the pandemic. On Tuesday, she was pleased with the number of people already turning out.
"I always seek out people," she said. "I've always been a relationship builder. I've always been someone that does that, and creates a community that watches out for each other, creates safe spaces, and kind of looks out for each other."
Duke hosted a National Night Out event in 2019 but decided against it last year out of safety concerns.
"Our neighborhood is kind of 50-50, with it starting to turn over with younger families, but a lot of the population up here is older, so we didn't want to take the risk of any getting sick," she said. "It just wasn't worth the risk, and we figured we'd just try next summer."
Franklin attended Duke's party as part of an RPD initiative to engage more with the community. Other officers and Olmsted County sheriff's deputies visited with residents at parties throughout the night.
He said he wants officers and residents to interact with each other "in times that are non-crisis or non-enforcement."
"That's why tonight is so important," he said. "It's a safe space, it's a safe environment. ... We're entering it to just talk to people and engage with them — and really tear down the barriers if they're there — and show the human side of policing."
Duke's home was Franklin's second stop of the night. About four miles up the road, he stopped at another community party at the GrandeVille at Cascade Lake apartment complex.
There, kids enjoyed ice cream, played yard games such as ladder golf, and forced their parents to put on silly apparel for a photo booth that was set up for the evening.
The GrandeVille National Night Out event was set up by Community Director Julie Ward. She said they held one in October, but saw a much smaller turnout.
"It's nice to see everyone's faces and people we haven't seen in a while," she said. "We missed seeing them."