Coffee with Cops

The Phoenix Police Department has captured its fair share of headlines over the past year, most recently for allegations that it fudged kidnapping statistics to get an undue share of federal money. You can learn more about that controversy here.

Meanwhile, though, as the higher-ups in city and federal government sort through the kidnapping numbers, rank-and-file officers are doing a nice bit of community outreach. The precincts have started a program called Coffee with Cops. On a monthly basis (the exact schedule is different for each precinct), officers take an hour to make themselves available to the public. The idea is to meet residents in relaxed situations, outside the usual times people might interact with an officer (speeding tickets, public altercations, domestic quarrels, to name a few). I attended one of the events last Wednesday.

About 30 people showed up, including about a dozen officers. There was no formal presentation, just a chance to share some coffee and cookies or pastries. (I know you’re wondering; there were no doughnuts in sight.)

I had an opportunity to meet several officers, including the Squaw Peak Precinct commander, Allen Smith. He was friendly, down to earth and more than willing to answer my questions. I wondered, for example, how the city department and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office divide responsibilities. Commander Smith indicated that officers working for the sheriff patrol only unincorporated areas in the county. I also asked whether Phoenix officers have to live in the city, and the answer is no.

With a group as visible as police officers, it’s easy to form stereotypical, often negative notions about them. Coffee with Cops is a highly effective, inexpensive way to break down barriers and stereotypes. A quick Internet search indicates that departments all over the country are replicating the idea. If you find one near you, I encourage you to attend. You’ll get a new perspective on the people who help make your community safe and secure.

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