Whether you’re a victim or suspect, talking to police is rarely a casual conversation.
Officers are usually probing for details about a crime, and if the matter is serious, you might be better off letting a lawyer handle your side of the dialogue. In any case, a time of emergency or emotional distress is hardly the best time to build a relationship with law enforcement.
That’s why the Smithfield Police Department has started an informal get-together, “Coffee with a Cop,” to give residents a chance to discuss their concerns and get to know the personalities behind the badges.
The latest event was held Feb. 27 at McDonald’s on West Market Street, and organizer Sgt. Brian O'Branovich said he plans to schedule “Coffee with a Cop” events every three months at restaurants around town. At McDonald’s, O’Branovich carried around a fresh pot and made sure the coffee kept flowing for patrons.
“It’s just an opportunity to see law enforcement in a positive light,” he said. “There’s no agenda; it’s an open forum. If you just want to meet the chief or meet a police officer, this is the opportunity.”
“Coffee with a Cop” is a nationwide program supported by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The Hawthorne Police Department in California came up with the concept in 2012, and since then, local departments have held events in more than 175 cities and towns in 36 states.
Although the focus is on getting to know people, O’Branovich said it’s also a good time for people to share their concerns with the police. In one instance, he said, a woman provided helpful tips about people who had been frequenting a drug house in her neighborhood that Smithfield police had been watching.
“She was able to provide us with more information to be able to make arrests, or to be able to watch the house,” O’Branovich said.
The West Smithfield McDonald’s was eager to support the initiative by providing space and even donating the coffee, said Annette Atkinson, marketing director for F&D Huebner, which owns 13 area McDonald’s. Atkinson said she thought Coffee with a Cop was a wonderful concept.
“A lot of times residents in the community don’t know what type of avenues are available to express their concerns or even express their gratitude, and this gives them one,” she said.
John Feeney and Peter Aspesi, both of Smithfield come to McDonald’s for breakfast once a week, and they were pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to talk to law enforcement and drink some free coffee.
Feeney said he thought it was a great outreach program for the police department. “It’s awful good of them to come out,” he said. “I’ve never seen it done before, so I appreciate it.”