'Coffee with a Cop' making an impact
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA — Police officers, investigators and command staff swarmed Burger King for two hours Tuesday morning, but it probably wasn’t for the reason you think.

There were no bad guys, flashing lights or handcuffs involved, and the only thing police had to bust up was the barrier between themselves and the community they serve. It was the department’s second “Coffee with a Cop” event, where citizens are invited to have a free cup of Joe and talk openly with officers in a casual setting.

“It went great,” Police Chief Chris Carden said. “We were excited about the turnout; it was bigger than last time, and we had a big showing from local law enforcement.”

The first “Coffee,” also hosted by Burger King, in August was deemed a success, and the second time around drew even more people, despite the rainy weather, with about 30 citizens stopping by between 7-9 a.m. Mike Dillon, one of the citizens in attendance, talked with several of the officers and said he was grateful for the opportunity to express his appreciation.

“I’m thrilled to death they’ve got this program,” he said. “Like I was telling the officers, this is our way as a community to come out and say thanks for the job they are doing. It’s really important to give these guys a pat on the back for a job well done, and they are doing a great job. We rely on them a lot.”

Carden said many of the citizens who stopped by expressed similar feelings, while others want to talk about their issues.

“A lot of the citizens that stop by are just thanking us, and some came by because they knew the faces but didn’t know names,” he said. “A couple had problems in the neighborhood they wanted to talk about, which is really what it’s intended for. It’s a forum where everybody is welcome and invited.”

That communication with citizens is exactly the purpose of the “Coffee with a Cop” program, which is picking up steam among police departments nationwide, though Sylacauga, Vestavia Hills and Gulf Shores are currently the only ones to host it in Alabama. Josh Coleman, community resource officer for Gulf Shores Police Department, attended Tuesday’s event and is one of the people implementing and instructing national “Coffee” training classes this year, made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We’re traveling around the country, and what we’re going to teach is a model for how to set this up, advertise and get through the barriers of that us-versus-them mentality that people often have about law enforcement,” said Coleman, who is a Childersburg native and former Sylacauga police officer.

The program, which is typically hosted at a public, non-police facility, made a huge impact when Coleman implemented it in Gulf Shores, he said, accomplishing their goal for a “new, innovative, progressive, community-oriented outreach event.”

“Most of the time, people interact with us while we’re on a call, and often its not a pleasant situation, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to just talk in a more personal atmosphere,” he said.

Carden said the same, adding that if people “know us by our first names, and we know them by theirs, you can solve problems quicker and easier when you have that relationship.”

SPD is hoping to host the event quarterly and is seeking different businesses to host.

More information on the “Coffee with a Cop” program can be found online at www.facebook.com/coffeewithacop.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013