By Matt Gundrum —
“’The police are the people and the people are the police,’” said Menomonie Police Chief, Eric Atkinson, as he echoed the words of Robert Peele, founder of London’s Metropolitan Police Service.
This phrase acts as the ideological foundation on which the Menomonie Police Department (MPD) stands. But for this foundation to stand strong, the community must play their part as well by being deeply invested in their local law enforcement. So how does a police force go about encouraging a particular community to feel such a way?
The answer may lie in a simple cup of coffee.
On Friday, September 25, the department hosted its first Coffee with A Cop event at Marion’s Legacy café in which Menomonie residents could sit down with their local law enforcement over refreshments.
“They can [offer feedback] in a comfortable form. It is not confrontational and there is no agenda,” said Chief Atkinson. “We’re not pitching any particular ideas or anything. We’re there to listen to their concerns.”
Coffee with A Cop is a community outreach initiative that was first launched in Hawthorne, California as a solution to break down the barriers between citizen and officer. Menomonie followed suit and has already hosted two at Marion’s Legacy café and Menomonie Public Library.
The idea to bring this initiative to Menomonie was brought forth by Crime Specialist Brenna Long, a newly christened employee at the MPD. Her primary intent for these events was to give community members a chance to ask questions and have misconceptions cleared. This way, a clear channel of communication is built, thereby establishing a closer relationship between officers and the people they serve.
However, the event series harbors a perception-related objective as well.
“When I was a student, I would see officers driving by in cars and I viewed them as a unit and not individual people and that’s one of the benefits of these events too,” said Long.
At a macro level, Coffee with A Cop is invaluable to developing strong department-community relations, the core of which is critical to effective policing.
“We need people to be involved [and] to watch out for things going on in their neighborhood that we might not be able to pick up on because we don’t spend the amount of time there that you folks do,” said Patrol Sergeant Brian Hagen. “Its really about building that partnership so they understand what we need from them. Then, we can try and provide the best services we can based on the information that we know as well.”
But this partnership won’t flourish unless strong public relations are built, and that’s exactly what Coffee with A Cop is trying to do.
The next Coffee with A Cop event will be held at the Raw Deal on December 16 from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.