Community

Local police departments host 'Coffee with a Cop' events to deepen connection with their communities

Janet Rater (from left) and Marlyce Heidt, both of Cedar Rapids, chat with Cedar Rapids Police Capt. Cody Estling during a Coffee with a Cop event on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 at Brewed Awakening on First Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids. (Kat Russell / The Gazette)
Janet Rater (from left) and Marlyce Heidt, both of Cedar Rapids, chat with Cedar Rapids Police Capt. Cody Estling during a Coffee with a Cop event on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 at Brewed Awakening on First Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids. (Kat Russell / The Gazette)
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How often do you get the chance to sit down with local police officers to chat, ask questions or get to know the people behind the badges? Safe to say that probably doesn’t happen too often.

That’s just one of the many reasons local police departments like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City host what they call “Coffee with a Cop” events, which gives police officers and the public a chance to interact informally, in comfortable settings.

“It’s all about relationships,” Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said. “We can better serve the community if we have strong relationships with the people who live here, and likewise, it is important for them to know us and feel comfortable with us.”

Much like the name implies, Coffee with a Cop is just that: an opportunity to sit in a local coffee shop, sip a cup of joe and chat with local officers.

“Programs such as Coffee with a Cop provide a relaxed venue for officers to meet with community members to discuss questions or concerns they may have,” said Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly. “(And), many show up to show their appreciation for the hard work the officers do.”

That was the case a couple weeks ago when about a half dozen CRPD officers gathered at Brewed Awakenings on First Avenue NE.

“I’m glad to see a good turnout,” Cedar Rapids resident Jerry Elsea said. “Events like these really personalize the police department.”

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Elsea said he stopped by because he wanted to meet the officers and chat with them about his concerns regarding at-risk kids.

“I have a vested interest in impressionable kids and the trouble they can get into,” he said. “A lot of these kids are receptive to getting involved with gangs.”

A retired journalist who spent decades writing for The Gazette, Elsea said he mentors at-risk kids and volunteers as a first-grade reading tutor with Matthew 25 Ministries. Additionally, he said, he tutors a budding writer who also happens to be an inmate serving a life sentence in a California prison, which has taught him a lot about at-risk kids, gangs and juvenile crime.

During his visit, he chatted with CRPD Capt. Cody Estling and Cedar Rapids Fire Battalion Chief Andy Olsen about what he saw as the city council “dithering on taking action to address youth issues.”

“I’d like to see the city officials take some real action to address youth issues,” he said. “Right now, it seems to me there’s a lot of talk about it, but not much action.”

Others attended the event to meet the officers, get to know them and chat about whatever was on their minds, be it serious or lighthearted.

Janet Rater and Marlyce Heidt, both of Cedar Rapids, said they just stopped in for coffee, not knowing about the event, but were pleasantly surprised when Capt. Estling sat down and started chatting with them.

“We learned a lot about what he does and oversees,” Heidt said. “It was really interesting to hear about all his duties. The police do so much that we don’t think about.”

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Sgt. Laura Faircloth, who is involved in much of the police department’s community engagement activities, said events like these give people a chance to see officers in a positive setting, rather than moments of crisis, and it gives that same gift to the officers.

“Police spend most of their time dealing with crises,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of time to interact one-on-one with people, answer questions or just socialize in an informal, comfortable setting. Programs like (Coffee with a Cop) give people a chance to meet with officers one-on-one and it gives us a chance to build personal relationships with members of the community. It’s also just a really nice opportunity for officers to unwind and have some fun with the people they serve.”

Faircloth joined Brewed Awakenings owner Junetta Janda and her two friends, Angie Sickels and Karen Higgens, both of Cedar Rapids, at a table to chat and sip coffee. The ladies chatted about all sorts of things, from the weather to recent activities to issues they are seeing in their neighborhoods.

“I love it,” Sickels said of the event. “I wish they did it more often. It gives me peace of mind about where we live and with the police.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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