Coffee With the Cops allows for informal dialogue

By John Heberling

Photo: John Heberling / NE Herald / John Heberling / NE Herald

The family restaurant on Toepperwein Road was swarming with Live Oak police officers Saturday morning — and the owner of the restaurant couldn’t have been more pleased.

That’s because Joyce Williams, owner of Williams Confectionery Crafts, was hosting the quarterly Coffee With the Cops, an effort by the city to foster good relations between Live Oak police and residents.

About 30 people came by Williams’ restaurant to chat with officers, offer encouragement and even to ask a question or two. Some had questions about the city’s efforts to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act; others wanted to know whether city police have a monthly quota for writing traffic citations. In short, no question is too big or too small during the coffee klatches.

“We welcome any and all questions,” Patrol Sgt. John Alonzo said. “We’re building a relationship with the community through this program, and that requires transparency.”

In answer to the quota question, Alonzo gave an emphatic “no.”

“It would be unethical and it’s not something we would ever do,” he said. “But it’s a good question, and people ask it a lot.”

During Saturday’s event, two of the officers showed off one of the city’s new SUVs to a group of children who excitedly climbed into the back seat, paying no heed to the prisonlike bars on all sides of the vehicle. For them, Coffee With the Cops was a throwback to the days when children had no fear of police and regarded them as friends.

Live Oak Mayor Mary Dennis said the idea for Coffee With the Cops came from Councilman Ed Cimics, who heard about the program at a conference he attended.

“We talked to Chief (Ken) Evans, and we agreed to give it a try. We thought it was a great idea,” Dennis said. “In addition to strengthening community relations with the police, it offers exposure for our local businesses, because we try to hold it in a different location each time. So it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The idea originated in California in 2011, with the Hawthorn Police Department’s Capt. Keith Kauffman and Sgt. Chris Cognac. Since then, the program has gone national, and Kauffman and Cognac travel the country training police departments how to set up the program.

Coffee With the Cops aims is to break down the barriers between police officers and the citizens they serve.

“That’s really important in light of some of the tragic incidents we’ve seen in the recent past,” Alonzo said. “What happens to an officer anywhere in the country affects the reputations of every officer everywhere. So this is a good way for the residents of Live Oak to get to see us and know us a little bit.”

Evans noted that it isn’t just Live Oak residents who attend.

“We get folks from Universal City, Converse, Windcrest, from all over the metrocom,” the chief said. “If I had to put a number to it, I’d say maybe 30 percent have been from outside Live Oak. We’re so interrelated here that it’s important we’re visible to everyone. Someone might ask, ‘Hey, this situation is happening with my grandson at school. How should I handle it?’ Well, that’s a universal question, not just one for Live Oak.”

One participant was concerned that, with nine police officers plus the chief in the restaurant, the city might not have been getting adequate protection.

“All but two of the officers here are off duty and are here on their own time,” Alonzo said.

Abel Garcia friend Rob Brown stopped in for breakfast and knew nothing about the program. But talking with the officers and overhearing others’ conversations made them enthusiastic about attending the next scheduled Coffee With the Cops.

“We plan to attend the next one at the new Starbucks (on Pat Booker Road),” Garcia said.9:00

C@rlos: Interesting idea to approach our cops with the community.
Are our cops ready for a face to face chat with the street people? In LATAM, I doubt it.

Originally posted

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