Lieutenant John DeRitis, a longtime member of the Absecon Police Department, is just one of a handful of homegrown guys on the force who remembers what he calls 'old-time Absecon' - a tight-knit city with firm friendships and bonds between citizens and public servants.

It's this memory, he said, that drives him to go all out each year for National Night Out, an annual celebration of public service held in thousands of towns across the country on Aug. 7.

"There's maybe a handful of us that were born and raised here that remember what old-time Absecon was, where everybody just came out, everybody knew everybody and for us that's what tonight is all about," DeRitis said. "The local businesses come out, meet the police, see the guy behind the badge - they're just a normal person. We want everybody to come out and meet everybody else and have fun while doing it."

More than 400 residents turned out for the event, DeRitis said, which was held at Pitney Field. This was Absecon's sixth year participating in the event, which began in 1984.

More than a dozen booths with representatives from local groups and businesses such as ACUA and SoJo 104.9 were set up in the field, doing giveaways and supporting their communities. The city and county's public service organizations put on displays, too. Highlights included water drops by a Forest Fire Service helicopter and a hostage rescue demonstration by the Atlantic County Emergency Response Team.

Don Woods Jr., who was at the event with his daughter, Nicole Warriner and 15-month-old granddaughter Scarlet, said he was impressed by the ACERT demo - saying that before National Night Out, he didn't know the county had such a service.

"I didn't know we had them," Woods said. "I knew we had a DARE program. I never knew we had a SWAT team out here, and I lived here 30 years. I never knew it."

Members of the Absecon Volunteer Fire Department and Absecon Emergency Medical Services also attended the event, showcasing their hardware, their services and, most importantly, themselves.

"It's good to get out and let the community see us," Absecon EMS Assistant Chief Jessica Gragg said. "A lot of people only see us in emergency situations. It's usually high, tense. Emotions are high and everything, we don't really get a chance to converse with them."

Six years ago, when DeRitis organized the first National Night Out, he struggled in getting sponsors and citizens out to the unproven event.

Each year since, attendance has increased, and it has since become a major midsummer event for citizens and the public service alike, bringing a little bit of old time Absecon into the new century.

"I am just thrilled to see that this many people come out every year. It just keeps getting bigger, and we're at the point, now people call me and say, 'Hey, can we come set up a table or booth at your event?'" DeRitis said. "I don't have to call as many people as I used to, to beg them to come out. They want to come out."

Contact Braden Campbell: