By CHLOE HARGRAVE – Editor-in-Chief
Sitting in Em’s Kitchen, at 975 Hawthorne Ave., I waited uneasily for the police officers to arrive. I twiddled my thumbs, sipped on my coffee and imagined what this forty-five minute conversation would consist of.
Through “Coffee With a Cop”, a newly initiated program, citizens are welcomed to speak with these officers about almost any community concern in a comfortable setting. Each officer is willing to provide help and insight while chatting over a cup of coffee.
Locally, Athens-Clarke County police officers are visible authority figures.
They have the intention of keeping the community safe, but they possess an intense and an understandably feared power over Athenians.
As the two cops entered the building, my nervousness turned into full-on anxiety. But, like regular people, they bought their coffee and just sat down with the rest of us.
“Hopefully (CWAC) sends (the) message that we are concerned about what’s going on in the community, and that we’re open to suggestions, concerns and comments. I think every time you go to a restaurant, people kind of look at (us) like they really want to ask (us) a question, but they don’t. So, that’s what this is about,” ACC Lt. Pat Whitmore said.
During the conversation, ACC police officers stressed the ACC Police Department is very transparent, and at CWAC that’s exactly what they are. The ACC police officers are opening themselves up to the community to create the image that they aren’t the dreaded authority figures they may be seen as.
“We want everybody to feel comfortable enough to say, ‘There’s officer England, I saw something yesterday that didn’t look right. Maybe I should ask him what he thinks about it,’” ACC Police Department Cpt. Melanie Rutledge said. “We have the guys that are the biggest guys, the big bad police, but all in all what we really stress in part of our training (is to be comfortable with us).”
But sitting down with these officers over coffee was something more than a question and answer session. This meeting was about changing the perspective the community has of police officers.
They have families. They worry. They understand.
Without Athenians taking the opportunity to sit down with these authority figures, the officers’ image will remain the same. An effort to improve this relationship must come from both sides. In order to become more comfortable with them, citizens have to be willing to make that change.
Police officers want to create a relationship for one reason: to improve our community.