Coffee (and more) with cops

It may have hit a nerve.

My column last Saturday focused on recent demonstrations and how they are evidence that certain segments of the population are feeling excluded. While several responded with their own stories of how they’ve been or felt isolated from the larger community — especially bodies that make policy decisions, others insisted that “some people” need only get off their … ahem … rear ends if involvement is truly a goal.

As is typically the case, most feedback was somewhere in the middle, with readers wanting more participation but remaining too cynical to believe it will or can happen.

Within that pile, three responses by area police officers caught my eye. The officers generally agreed with my assessment that more community business needs to be done within neighborhoods, allowing as many people as possible to participate.

Coffee With A Cop LogoThey also wanted to pass along information on a relatively new national initiative, Coffee with a Cop, that has been popping up across our state over the past year.

Iowa City held its first Coffee with a Cop event last March and followed with a second in September.

Cedar Rapids’ first event will be Thursday, 9 to 11 a.m., at the Hy-Vee on Wilson Avenue SW.

Other law enforcement offices — Marion, Muscatine, Storm Lake and Sioux City, to name a few — have hosted similar events. The national organization boasts meetings over coffee in more than 175 cities across 36 states.

All are intended to bring community members and local law enforcement officers into a neutral space for relaxed networking and communication.

Emergency workers, especially police officers, are often thrust into the public eye during emotionally charged incidents. While work duties dictate the circumstances surrounding these meetings, they seldom leave time for basic relationship building within the neighborhoods served.

Unlike in the sweet, fictional town of Mayberry, most police officers are now tethered to transportation — as is the public. Opportunities for organic conversations are few, and some residents do not feel comfortable approaching police officers without a specific need or emergency.

Coffee with a Cop or similar events won’t wipe away the cultural challenges in building lasting community relationships. And, when distrust has become a norm, it is going to take more than an hour at a coffee shop to rebuild confidence.

Nonetheless, such events — held in neighborhoods, along bus routes and in welcoming spaces — are progress toward the goal of an inclusive community.

The public must choose to participate, and not just in moments of crisis or controversy. While intense bonds can be built during emotional times, what’s forged by fire is often too volatile serve as a lasting foundation.

Thoughts, ideas and possibilities exist in everyday spaces, often discovered as a result of mundane happenings — like sharing a cup of joe.

So, I’m a fan of Coffee with a Cop, and other initiatives working to bring the facets of communities together.

Consider the warmed caffeine a civic duty door prize.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Dec. 13, 2014.