ACCPD begins new initiative
Playing off of the old stereotypes of cops who are never without their coffee and donuts comes a new initiative from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department: “Coffee with a Cop.”
An Athens-Clarke County police officer speaks with a community member at the Oct. 25 Coffee with a Cop gathering at Em’s Kitchen on Hawthorne Ave. Photo by Porter McLeod.
The program is designed to facilitate dialogue between Athens citizens and the police department through monthly breakfasts at local restaurants.
“I think every time you go to a restaurant, people look at you like they really want to ask you a question, but they don’t. So, that’s what (Coffee with a Cop) is about,” ACCPD Captain Melanie Rutledge said. “You want to know why they wrote me a ticket for this, or why this happened. We may not know all the answers, but we definitely know where to get them.”
The officers arrive at a local restaurant for a set hour of time when citizens can speak with them. So far the breakfasts have been held at Athens Bagel Company on Oct. 16 and Em’s Kitchen on Oct. 25 and on Nov. 13 at Mama’s Boy.
Concerns voiced range from questions about traffic signs to noise ordinances. However, officers understand and expect citizens may have more sensitive topics to discuss.
“Sometimes we have to answer the tough questions like, ‘Why did you arrest my son for underage drinking?’ and things like that. We’re prepared to deal with those, too,” Rutledge said. “We know its not always going to be pleasant and that’s a part of our job.”
The overarching goal of the new program is to increase contact between the police department and citizens so they feel more comfortable expressing concerns, according to Rutledge.
“Typically when we have community meetings, they bring in the chiefs to talk about the problems and this is completely different,” Rutledge said. “It’s not about me telling you ‘well, these are the crime statistics.’ It’s about a casual environment where you can ask (questions).”
Officers expect Coffee with a Cop to provide a different type of interaction that citizens do not usually deal with police officers.
“We’re interacting and being accessible to the people. A lot of the people that deal with the police (are) usually in very high-energy or emergency situations,” Rutledge said.
By meeting in a relaxed situation, officers hope to connect with citizens and that that relationship will continue even through stressful circumstances.
“If you’re more comfortable meeting us in a casual setting, it’s easier to talk to somebody. Who can relate to that guy who’s writing you a ticket or putting bracelets on your wrist?” Officer Pat Whitmore said. “We’d like to meet under better circumstances and we’re hoping that’s what this will be.”
The officers feel as though it is important to maintain a relationship with citizens and ensure that they feel comfortable coming to officers if there are specific issues that need to be brought to their attention.
“It’s a partnership between the citizens because people know more about their neighborhoods than we do. We can be in there eight hours a day, but that’s just eight hours. You live there, you have a vested interest,” Whitmore said. “We work for the community, not the other way around.”
Read more about Coffee with a Cop
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