By Lieutenant Ti Goetz
Damn, I wish I had thought of this one! Every once in a while, someone rolls out a community oriented policing program that not only works, but actually makes sense. The Hawthorne Police Department “Coffee with a Cop” program appears to be one of them. After all, what could be more apropos than shooting the bull with cops over a steaming hot cup of Joe? It doesn’t require a lot of work or planning, the cost is minimal, the community and the cops both enjoy it, and it ACCOMPLISHES its goal! It gives law enforcement an opportunity to connect with their community in a comfortable, non-threatening, and downright friendly atmosphere.
According to Hawthorne Sergeant Chris Cognac, a one time Food Network star on the show “The Hungry Detective,” and the brains behind the Coffee with a Cop program, “It’s really a pretty simple idea; we set up shop in an inviting atmosphere that serves coffee. Then we offer the citizens a free cup of coffee and the opportunity to talk to us about whatever they want, good or bad. It can be done anywhere, anytime, by any department, and without much effort. It’s a no brainer!”
Much as some may groan at the thought, interacting with the community in some positive manner is part and parcel of police work these days. Between the politicians going after our pensions, the press and media second guessing our every move, and the ever expanding phenomenon of YouTube documenting our every “Ooops” moment, we really need to try and make a few new friends. This seems to be an easy way to do it.
Within days of coming up with the initial concept, electronic signboards throughout the small, Southern California city of Hawthorne were flashing the message, “Coffee with a Cop…McDonalds…Saturday…8:00AM.” The information was also disseminated via the traditional media as well as the social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook. Initial fears that no one would show up soon proved baseless. After its huge initial success, the Hawthorne PD quickly moved to firm up their collaboration with the local McDonalds franchises, purchased the domain name coffeewithacop.com, and started publicizing the idea on their Facebook site. As the program grew, and the concept was refined, additional locations around the city were added to ensure varying demographics were all reached. A community survey was designed that could be quickly completed by citizens on the various iPads the department made available. This proved invaluable as the department was then able to receive raw data on community issues and police department performance. It didn’t take long before surrounding departments began to realize what a boon this was for community relations and copied the program.
In January, 2012 Sgt. Cognac submitted the program to the COPS office, resulting in their publishing of the program outline in the January 2012 issue of Dispatch. Within days, the department was deluged with requests for information from not only police departments all over the nation, but also citizens asking how they could get the program brought to their city or town. Many of the McDonalds in other cities quickly realized the benefits of the program, and threw their support behind the effort. In no time at all, Coffee with a Cop was springing up all over the nation. From Abington PA to Gulf Shores AL, departments were launching the program with great success. That is the beauty of Coffee with a Cop. The simple formula can be duplicated and passed from agency to agency, state to state, and even country to country.
Recognizing the potential of the program, Sgt. Cognac packaged up Coffee with a Cop and took it to Washington DC during National Law Enforcement week, where he formally pitched his concept to the movers and shakers at the Department of Justice. In August of this year, the US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing, bought off on the idea. They awarded the Hawthorne Police Department, in partnership with the University of Illinois, a $400,000 grant for the “Coffee with a Cop National Expansion Project.”
And here’s where I really wish I had thought of the idea. Over the next year, Sgt. Cognac, along with representatives from the Hawthorne Police Department, will be travelling across the country helping other agencies get their own Coffee with a Cop programs started. Never one to think small, Sgt. Cognac has also decided to travel to London, Paris and Scotland in 2013 to speak with representatives from those law enforcement agencies about his newest spin off concept, “Tea with a Bobby.”
Wonder if he needs anyone to serve the cream and sugar for him?
If you are interested in setting up your own Coffee with a Cop program, log onto https://www.facebook.com/coffeewithacop for further information