The Monroe Police Department has joined the international Coffee With a Cop program, which aims to build bridges between officers and their communities.
The city’s second Coffee With a Cop event was held at the Monroe and Sky Valley Family YMCA last Tuesday, June 13. The lobby was packed that morning with law enforcement and residents.
Sgt. Cindy Chessie, a 25-year MPD employee, proposed starting a version of the event in Monroe. The first gathering was May 16. Both events saw a good turnout. She largely attributes the participation to her peers.
“I work with a great group of guys,” she said.
Coffee With a Cop began in Hawthorne, California in 2011. Members of the agency had been looking for ways to increase positive interactions with residents. Since then, it has been hosted in all 50 states and four other countries.
“Community policing has long been considered a framework for establishing trust between the community and the police,” according to the program. “However, over time the character and composition of our nation’s communities have changed due to shifting demographics, more commuters, and the introduction of different communication methods, such as websites and social media.”
Chessie said she has watched the successful program spread, including the ongoing partnership between the city of Seattle and Starbucks. She said she wanted those same opportunities for local law enforcement and Monroe residents.
According to a recent study, the approach is effective.
During the 2016 National Coffee With a Cop day, 70 percent of people participants surveyed by the program said they had more positive feelings about police after the meeting, and 24 percent said they had felt the same beforehand. No one said they felt worse.
“Coffee with A Cop events attendees reporting a strong improvement in their feelings toward their local police, even if they held positive views of the police prior to the events,” according to the program.
Chessie said getting to know an officer can create those positive feelings, and MPD staff is invested in the community just like other members. They raise families, they attend events, they “want what is best,” she said.
Ray Ankrum and his son, Easton, spent the hour meeting with different officers. The 5-year-old is not shy when it comes to interacting with people in uniform.
“He sees them as friends, not as law enforcement officers,” Ankrum said.
The father and son regularly attend local events where they get to meet with the people whose job it is to serve the community, including emergency responders, Ankrum said. It helps to know who will be there to assist, and not just to enforce, he said.
Ankrum said it also gives residents the chance to learn how the MPD responds to current concerns in the community, such as the rise in homelessness or if there were a string of recent burglaries. The MPD recently hired on an embedded social worker that can better connect the unsheltered population with services, he said.
YMCA executive director Patsy Cudaback said she and other staff wanted to host Tuesday’s event. The center offers increased chances for interactions due to the volume of visitors that come through every day; it raises the opportunities to build or further relationships, she said.
“I think our community supports police; this is just a way to keep it going,” she said.
Cudaback said some people can be fearful of law enforcement. Holding an event like Coffee With a Cop in a relaxed atmosphere, which could also be as affective at a library or senior center, can create a space where regular barriers won’t get in the way, she said.
The hope is that the public will take advantage of the invitation, Cudaback said. She said it is not important to have any prepared questions, just be ready to have a conversation.
Chessie said the MPD hopes to continue the program locally.
“I would like to keep it going as long as there is a demand,” she said. “As long as the community wants to host us.”
Photos by Kelly Sullivan: Lisa Howard brought her children, Isaac, Evelyn and Jaxon, to the Monroe and Sky Valley YMCA on Tuesday, June 13. The small group stopped for a minute to participate in the city’s second Coffee With a Cop event in Monroe. Resident Ken Goodwin and Monroe Police detective Barry Hatch chat at the city’s second Coffee With a Cop event at the Monroe and Sky Valley YMCA on Tuesday, June 13.