As attendees made their way into this session, three officers in uniform cheerfully greeted each new arrival, thanking them for coming and asking how they were doing. What those attendees likely didn’t realize at first is that they were getting a taste of what it is like for citizens who go to “Coffee With a Cop” events—if they are lucky enough to live in a community that hosts them, that is.
Sgt. Chris Cognac (Hawthorne, CA), Officer Bonnie Beste (Superior, WI), and Officer Josh Coleman (Gulf Shores, AL) all have run Coffee With a Cop in their cities, and were eager to share with the conference crowd just how easy, inexpensive, and beneficial the concept really is. Cognac started off with a little history of the idea and how it got started in Hawthorne. This was the story he told in the Dispatch earlier this year, where Beste and Coleman read it. Beste—who doesn’t actually drink coffee—had long been asked to host some sort of informal community event (“Tea with Bonnie,” she joked) but the article convinced her that it might actually be something that could work. Coleman, a community resource officer, was already on the lookout for new ideas to build agency rapport with the citizens of Gulf Shores when he saw the article and contacted Cognac. Cognac told him it really was as easy as the article said, and Coleman assured the audience that he was right.
With a slide show of photos from past events cycling in the background, they talked about the lessons they’ve learned in advertizing the events to the public, managing the crowds on the day, and recruiting fellow officers to help staff the events. They offered advice on crowd management (it’s like working the room at a cocktail party), avoiding the ‘hijacking’ of the event by local politicians (thank them for coming while you walk them to the door), what time of day works best (not before noon if your target audience is college students!) and even where to park the police cars (around back of the restaurant so that the public doesn’t think it’s a crime scene).
The large audience asked questions throughout the session. It was clear that they were fascinated by the possibilities of such a simple and effective idea. The potential for improving not only the community’s trust of the police, but also the officer’s understanding of the people they serve was clear. Coffee With a Cop offers exactly what so much of our modern society takes away—the chance for two people to sit down in a casual environment with no particular agenda or schedule and have a conversation.
Cognac, Beste, and Coleman all said that the conversations they’ve had have varied widely, from nuisance complaints to questions about laws and ordinances and even the weather, but all have been worth the time it took to have them. Whether they come with a problem or just happened to be wandering by, citizens at Coffee With a Cop events all leave knowing just a little bit more about the human beings that wear the uniform, and the officers know just a little bit more about the community where they work.
The Q and A continued in the hallway well after the session ended. The session was a clear win for the presenters, but also for the communities represented in the audience. It sounded like they can all expect to see Coffee With a Cop coming to their neighborhoods in the very near future.
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