Citizens Meet Officers over Coffee to Share Concerns

CHP Public Information Officer Fernando Alvarez greets customers at the drive-thru window at McDonald’s during the “Coffee with a Cop” event Tuesday.

EL CENTRO – In an effort to break down the barriers between police officers and the citizens they serve, the El Centro Police Department (ECPD) in conjunction with the California Highway Patrol hosted “Coffee with a Cop” Tuesday morning at the local McDonald’s located on 4th Street.

“This is a great idea,” said Elsa Marin, an El Centro resident. “Not only do we have the opportunity to meet our officers, but we can also ask questions that no one else can answer.”

Tuesday’s “Coffee with a Cop” was the fourth gathering since the program’s initiation in March 2015. With the police department also being joined by California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers, community members had the opportunity to have questions answered ranging from burglary, citations, animal control and highway-related matters.

“Our goal is to make ourselves accessible to the community while reaching all areas of the city,” said Robert Sawyer, El Centro Police commander. “The California Highway Patrol Agency was interested in creating something like “Coffee with a Cop” and asked if they could participate in today’s event to get an idea of what we do and how to interact with the public.”

Sawyer said it was great having different agencies participate. “This isn’t about the CHP or the ECPD, it’s about law enforcement in general and reaching out to the community. This gives the community the opportunity to ask questions not only in regards to the city, but also traffic, freeway issues or even issues with the unincorporated areas,” he said.

According to Sawyer, officers are usually in a patrol unit 12 hours per day, driving around from call to call. “These events help us interact in a positive manner with the public. It helps us open our minds, brighten our horizons and interact with the community in a positive way.”

In a short time, citizens and police officers had the opportunity to meet and get to know each other, and discover mutual goals for the community in which they live and serve.

“I’m glad our law enforcement is proactive with the community and gives us the sense of trust that we need, especially during these days when burglaries are on the rise,” said Ruben Avila, a resident of El Centro.

“Coffee with a Cop” events take place at local restaurants where citizens can sit down with officers, ask questions or share concerns and what’s on their mind. Officers on the other hand, take the opportunity to relax and chat with residents outside of crisis situations and listen to the community’s needs while enjoying a cup of coffee.

“This morning I had the opportunity to meet a pastor from San Diego who happened to stop by,” said Sawyer. “Other than maybe helping him on the freeway or issuing him a citation, I would have never had the opportunity to interact with him. Not only did we chat, but it gave us the opportunity to learn something from one another.”

According to Sawyer, the “Coffee with a Cop” notion was brought forth by El Centro Police Officer Richard Ramos who came across the idea through social media. “We loved the concept, contacted the Hawthorne PD and with their guidance, we put it in effect,” said Sawyer.

“I saw this on social media, thought it was a great idea and presented it to my superiors,” said Ramos. “I never expected to have such a positive reaction from the community and nevertheless, have other law enforcement agencies interested in participating. People really seem to enjoy it and I also learn a lot.”

California Highway Patrol Lieutenant and Acting Commander Jerry Rutner said it was a good way to get to know the community in addition to being a great outreach program.

“People have the opportunity to get to know us under different circumstances other than a when issuing a citation or a traffic accident,” he said. “This is the first time we participated in Imperial County. Our officers are very excited and people are very surprised to see us here.”

CHP Public Information Officer Fernando Alvarez greeted customers at the drive-thru window and handed out brochures focused on “Distractive Driving,” while ECPD Officer Jeffrey Brown took the time to chat with customers as they waited to place their order, answering questions and concerns.

“I really enjoy participating and giving people the opportunity to know who I am while giving them a chance to interact with me on a positive note,” said Brown.

“Coffee with a Cop” was launched in Hawthorne in 2011, as a result of a brainstorming session. Members of the Hawthorne Police Department were looking for ways to interact more successfully with the citizens they served each day.

In less than five years, “Coffee with a Cop” events have been hosted in more than 3,000 communities, in all 50 states and is one of the most successful community-oriented policing programs across the country. The program has also expanded outside the U.S. to Canada, Europe, Australia, and Africa.