When things go bad in policing—as they have so often, so publicly over the last few years—it's tough for the majority of good officers to build relationships and trust in their communities. There's a feeling of distrust on the part of many citizens and long-standing fear among police. What's necessary is real communication and dialogue. But how do you do it when the average person's interactions with an officer is being pulled over on a road or stopped on a street? What if you want to just sit down and talk to a police officer? One part of the answer is a program called Coffee with a Cop, a chance for people from the community to meet police officers, sit down over a cup of coffee, and learn about each other.
Now a national program with its own site and Facebook page, the concept started with the Hawthorne, CA, Police Department. Chief Robert Fager created the Community Affairs Unit to reach out to the community and identify problems the department would then address.
The CAU decided that having some officers available in a public place where people could drop by would be good. They contacted the manager of a local McDonald's, who was enthusiastic and pledged to offer free coffee for officers and citizens alike. The CAU picked a day in March 2011 and posted flyers. A few officers arrived at 8 a.m. to find no one had showed up. But by 8:15, a steady stream of people started coming in to talk about graffiti, elder abuse, parking, and fraud. Some complained about a particular traffic sign.
The Hawthorne department found it so successful that they continued to hold the event every six weeks. And then other police departments, hearing about the practice, picked it up. There have been events in all 50 states, and the US Department of Justice has made October 7 National Coffee with a Cop Day. Not only have local police departments all over the country held sessions, but so have many country sheriff's departments and even university and state police departments.
What makes it work is the chance to talk outside of a crisis situation and for each side to see the other as people. And, of course, coffee. Never underestimate the power of caffeine.
There are so many Coffee with a Cop events that we couldn't come close to showing them all, but here is a selection from the last month:
Potsdam, New York
Ogdensburg, New York
University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Montclair, New Jersey
Maricopa County, Arizona
Des Plaines, Illinois
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Manatee County, Florida
And, last but not least, the Sheriff’s Department of Hays County, Texas, in the town of Dripping Springs.