"Coffee with a Cop": Building Police-Community Relations (Facts and Statistics)
Law enforcement individuals are intimidating to many civilians. Dressed in a uniform, wearing a badge and gun can make cops seem a little unapproachable and even scary at times. Combine that with technology making law enforcement invisible and autonomous, bridging the gap between community and law enforcement was a challenge until the "Coffee with a Cop" program.
Chief of Police, Billy Grogan explains it well.
"Community Policing is so important because the police alone cannot keep our communities safe. We need our citizens and businesses to work with us, and together we can make a difference.
Coffee With a Cop provides an opportunity for our citizens to meet our police officers in a non-threatening environment with no agenda. They can ask questions, and real conversations can happen, and strong relationships can be built."
What is "Coffee with a Cop?"
Started in 2011, the "Coffee with a Cop" initiative has swept the nation, and all fifty states host annual programs and events. What began as a modest idea in Hawthorne, California has grown into a global movement. It started as an effort to bring cops and civilians together to get to know each other better to promote community involvement and form lasting bonds.
Over 1000 police departments host events every six weeks, and this one change is revolutionizing law enforcement and bonding individual officers to their communities.
The first Wednesday of every October has been officially deemed National Coffee with a Cop Day. This year’s event takes place on October 3, 2018.
Police Chief, Frederick Ryan expands on why "Coffee with a Cop" is so important.
"A police department is only as good as the trust that the community it serves places in it. Building community trust is labor intensive and time-consuming work. It involves the process of establishing trusting relationships one person at a time, like building a beach one pebble of sand at a time.
It requires a true commitment to transparency because transparency breeds self-correcting behavior."
Sgt. Tom McCullough, Bloomington Police Department - Crime Prevention Unit/ CNT Supervisor details the history in a memo he sends out to recruits to explain the program and how it works.
"The Bloomington Police Department is starting up a new and intriguing endeavor. Coffee with a Cop. Coffee with a Cop brings police officers and the community members we serve together- over coffee- to discuss issues and learn more about each other. A cup of coffee is a common bond. And, it can help officers build better relationships with the communities we serve.
Community members are invited to have coffee with Bloomington Police Officers. AGENDA FREE. No speeches or specific topics. Just informal conversations about what matters to community residents.
Having a cup of coffee and talking with citizens is nothing new as most of us have mastered that skill. Having an organized and publicized event inviting the community to come talk with us in an open, non-threatening environment is. We try to eliminate obstacles–such as radios, patrol cars, and cell phones–for a short period of time to be more approachable and have relaxed conversations with community members."
The History of Coffee with a Cop:
The Hawthorne Police Department hosted the first Coffee with a Cop event in March 2011 in an effort to better understand the needs and concerns of community residents.
Members of the Hawthorne Police Department were looking for ways to interact more successfully with the citizens they served each day. It was a huge and instant hit not only with the community but with the officers too. In less than three years, Coffee with a Cop events had been hosted in more than 2,000 communities in 49 states and is one of the most successful community-oriented policing programs across the country.
Link to Coffee with a Cop website: http://coffeewithacop.com/
Here is an excellent video on the events: https://vimeo.com/127870317
FOR US, THE BLOOMINGTON POLICE OFFICERS:
Coffee with a Cop gives all of us the opportunity, outside of crisis situations, to relax and visit with residents in the community we serve.
FOR OUR BLOOMINGTON COMMUNITY MEMBERS:
Coffee with a Cop events provide access and opportunity for distraction-free conversations with their local Bloomington Police Officers.
The mission of Coffee with a Cop is to improve trust, break down barriers and strengthen relationships between police officers and the citizens we serve.
Open lines of communication & understanding between the Bloomington Police Department and the Bloomington community.
- To address relevant issues in the community and
- To foster a strong and reliable relationship between community members and the officers of the Bloomington Police Department.
Coffee with a Cop will occur once a month where local businesses/organizations are invited to host the event for 2 hrs.
There will be joint Coffee with a Cop events with Human Services at Creekside or one of our Libraries or churches every other month and then more traditional Coffee with a Cop events at various locations throughout the city like Bakers Square, Caribou Coffee, and Mugshots."
Building Police-Community Relations - Why it is Important
What the "Coffee with a Cop" program has done is to help regular people see that cops in uniform are just people too with the same hopes, dreams, and fears they have. The initiative has strengthened community/law enforcement relationships and opened the door for a more unified approach to law enforcement. People who personally know police officers in their area are much more likely to report crimes being committed or take action, rather than stay silent.
The "Coffee with a Cop" motto is "building better relationships, one cup at a time."
According to Chris Cognac, co-founder of the program from the Hawthorne Police Department puts it like this "coffee is the mechanism. It’s the conversation that starts as a result of the coffee."
By breaking down barriers caused by the perception of law enforcement and what the badge signifies, helps both sides. The program is aimed at cultivating trust between the two groups.
Having coffee with a neighborhood cop doesn’t stop there. For the program to really work, there needs to be continuity between the same civilians and law enforcement individuals to get to know them personally. This continued effort is how the initial connection is deepened, and the relationship strengthened, through continuous contact and seeing the same faces every day.
Although technology has improved law enforcement dramatically, it has also robbed the community of the personal touch and knowing your neighborhood cop is a critical piece of the puzzle. Strong relationships between cops and citizens matter a lot. Especially during these stressful times and tensions running high between communities and law enforcement, the "Coffee with a Cop" program is aimed at mending the broken fences.
Jeremy Warnick, Director of Communications & Media Relations at the Cambridge Police Department has this to say about the importance of "Coffee with a Cop":
"Strong relationships of mutual trust between the Cambridge Police Department and community we serve are critical to maintaining public safety and effective policing. We rely on the cooperation of community members to provide information about crime in their neighborhoods, and to work with us to devise solutions to crime and other issues. Similarly, community members’ willingness to trust the police depends on whether they believe that our actions reflect community values and incorporate the principles of procedural justice and legitimacy.
With that said, it is important for our officers to be visible in our communities and to know our residents. Many people do not interact with the police outside of enforcement contexts. This can result in people developing negative associations with the police – for example, if the only contact they have ever had with police consisted of receiving a traffic citation or calling the police to report being the victim of a crime. Finding opportunities to interact with community members in a positive, non-enforcement context helps build trust, increase information sharing, reduce bias and break down other barriers.
As mentioned before, the only potential interaction a community member may have with the police is a traffic citation or in an instance in which they were the victim of or a witness to a crime. Initiatives like Coffee with the Commissioner and Coffee with the Cop create opportunities for our officers and leadership to meet with members of the community in a location where they already frequent. Often times, they may plan to spend a prolonged period of time at a coffee shop, which lends itself to engaging and more in-depth, quality discussions with members of the community we may not have connected with in the past."
Lt. Scott D. Hildebrand of the Hickory Police Department in North Carolina chimed in with:
"Community policing is important because it makes a connection with the public; those that we serve. Beginning post World War II society began to change. The baby boom caused cities to grow exponentially. Urban environments turned into suburban growth and police started to get disconnected from the public. At one time officers walked a beat and knew everyone on their block. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, officers relied mostly on automobiles to respond to calls and there became a disconnect.
The idea of community policing in about the 1990s was done to reestablish that connection. It was building relationships with the community to work together at fighting crime and solving problems. It brought police and citizens together so that we, the police, were seen as humans rather than just someone driving by in a police car.
The impact it’s had is that it is just one more source of meeting with the public. We say that it is not a meeting with an agenda, it is just a time to meet with officers and discuss any subject, share ideas, and to spend time together over coffee."
Corvallis Police Department’s Officer James Dodge makes these comments about the impact of the program:
"Community policing should be the backbone of every police department. Policing cannot be done by the police department alone; having a partnership with the community to help solve public safety problems is vital. When the community is involved and takes ownership, the solutions are longer lasting. One way the Corvallis Police Department has improved the relationship with our community is through our Coffee with a Cop events. We have had 10 events in the last two and a half years.
The impact for us has been simply in strengthening our already good relationship with our community. Most everyday citizen contacts with the police are typically because they are a victim of a crime, a witness to something or from a routine traffic stop. Other police contacts are when someone is in a crisis.
So, needless to say, police contacts typically have a certain "business" about them due to the nature of the call. Because of Coffee with a Cop events, citizens get to have a "no agenda" type of a contact with a police officer. In other words, the contact is a "get to know you" type of a contact. Because officers and citizens get to have a normal conversation, it naturally strengthens the relationship between police and the community."
The Statistics of Engagement in "Coffee with a Cop"
The original team of cops who started "Coffee with a Cop", now travels the country training other police departments on how to engage with their communities in a meaningful way, the same way that made Hawthorne a success. It isn’t just a once a year event; it is a program that extends throughout the structure and organization at the individual level.
Although there are no hard statistics on how much this program has helped, many citizens have commented that they would never have considered reporting crimes until they got to know their local police officer.
What Some Police Departments are Doing to Make "Coffee with a Cop" Happen in Their Communities
Sgt. Tom McCullough of the Bloomington Police Department- Crime Prevention Unit/ CNT Supervisor, explains how their precinct is making success stories.
"We started Coffee with a Cop here in Bloomington about 2 years ago, and it has been a great success for us. We have one event a month at different business locations throughout the city. We also have incorporated a Holiday Coffee with a Cop/Open House & Toys for Tots Drop off just prior to the holidays.
We advertise via our City website, Police website, City Facebook page, Police Twitter, Next-door and email notifications to business, churches, and multi-unit housing complexes. The feedback from both cops and community members has been great. We have had excellent conversations with people from many diverse backgrounds and the interactions have been insightful and educational. We receive many inquiries each month as to when and where our next event will be.
We estimate that we have had well over 1,000 people attend our events throughout the past two years. Coffee with a Cop is a mainstay at our department, and we will continue this program well into the future. We are always working on finding locations that are unique to our diverse population (i.e., at one of our two Mosques). This past year we had an excellent turnout & event at one of our local churches that has a large Spanish speaking community.
We have made countless connections in our community that may likely not have occurred otherwise if not for our Coffee with a Cop events.
Our Holiday Coffee with a Cop/Open House has been a department & community favorite. We usually have 100-200 people come by to visit, see the PD and get to know their cops. In addition, we incorporate a Toys for Tots drive and ask folks to bring gifts along. We have a couple of our officers who are also Marines dress in full dress uniform. We had such an outpouring of support that we were able to fill our full-size command post from floor to ceiling with 100’s of gifts."
Success Stories of Bridging the Gap Between Law Enforcement and Communities
Here are some genuine success stories direct from the mouths of the cops involved.
"While attending a Coffee With a Cop event, a citizen approached me upset about something an officer had done. After I explained why the officer did what he did, the citizen was satisfied with my explanation. That conversation and many others like it demonstrates our transparency and builds trust with the community."
"Last November, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer stopped by Coffee with a Cop and met with Commissioner Bard and our other officers. That was a big thrill for Commissioner. Additionally, we held a Coffee with Commissioner event the day after a highly publicized incident in Harvard Square involved a student. The event, which was already planned, presented an opportunity for residents to ask questions directly to our officers and gain more insight and perspective into the incident. Many residents and students attended, and those conversations greatly assisted in diffusing potential tensions."
"I always enjoy hearing that people specifically come to the events because they heard it was happening, they didn't just stumble across it. Some come just for simple conversation. Some have questions, and we do our best to satisfy them.
Probably my favorite event was done on Halloween morning, a Saturday, several years ago. We met at a coffee shop and had coffee and discussions, and also gave out candy to every child that came in. Even the ones that went through the drive-through were met by an officer handing out candy. It was Halloween day; I thought it was the right thing to do."
"Corvallis Police Department has a large international student population and Hispanic population. We have specifically held two CWAC events on our local university campus to reach out to the international student population. We have assisted with the education of Oregon Law, and City of Corvallis Municipal Codes. Without the CWAC event, this would not have happened, at least not in the way it happened, allowing for a relaxed atmosphere where there was genuine dialogue. In addition, we held a specific CWAC event at a local Mexican Bakery to specifically reach out to our Hispanic population. We even included interpreters to assist with language barriers. This served us well in building trust.
Based on recent national events related to immigration, there is distrust of law enforcement (or government in general) within the Hispanic community. Within our Hispanic community, we were able to demonstrate that we are a partner and a resource to help them when they need assistance. This event has really paved the way for a trusting relationship with more events to follow."
"Recently at a Tucson Sector "Coffee with a Cop" event, agents engaged in conversation with a couple of ladies who turned out to be school teachers. The Border Patrol agents talked about the job and their work in the community with programs like Explorers, Team Kids, and Operation Detour. The teachers were thrilled to learn that there were BP programs geared towards mentoring children like their students and invited the agents to visit their classrooms for a presentation."