Coffee with a Cop Brews Stronger Communities

Written by ndmulti

We live in a coffee culture. We grab coffee to catch up, interact, and build relationships with those we care about.

At Nextdoor, we like our communities as strong as our coffee. Recently, we noticed our police department partners frequently used Nextdoor to organize Coffee with a Cop events, where police officers interact with members of their community over coffee.

Since the start of the year, 225 police departments have used Nextdoor to organize Coffee with a Cop events, totaling to over 800 Coffee with a Cop posts on the Nextdoor for Public Agencies platform. The concept has become so popular that today, October 7, 2016, marks the first National Coffee with a Cop Day. With recent events this past year, community engagement is more critical than ever for police departments. At its core, these casual gatherings allow residents to ask questions, voice concerns, and get to know their local officers in a friendly space.

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The Euclid Police Department hosts a Coffee with a Cop event at a local diner.

Excited by the event’s recent popularity, we sat down with several of our partners to hear their valuable insights and the impact they’ve seen firsthand.

  1. Host the event in a casual setting. While coffee shops may be the most natural choice, police departments have chosen various types of locations. Officer Ed Bonchak of the Euclid Police Department has hosted Coffee with a Cop events for four years now. Beyond coffee shops, he’s hosted the event at restaurants, churches, supermarkets and even gas stations. Officer Bonchak mentioned that these local owners have all been incredibly receptive. “They’re not just businesses,” he says, “They’re our community partners.”
  2. Offer various times and days to reach more residents. When hosting these events, mornings might be the ideal time for coffee, but early evenings accommodate those who cannot take time off from work. Public Information Officer Katie Nelson of Mountain View Police Department says that her department usually sees a higher turnout during the summer months when parents tend to bring their kids. Wintertime is trickier, simply because it gets darker earlier in the day.
  3. Remind your residents of the event frequently with social media. Officer Bonchak notes that once residents know about the events, their enthusiasm grows. “Now, we have a bit of a following. We call these residents our ‘frequent flyers,’ people that are asking about the next Coffee with a Cop. I can’t let people know early enough. We use Nextdoor to promote our events, distribute flyers, and we also post on our community bulletin boards at various intersections of the city.”
  4. Embrace the open conversations. Residents come because they want to meet their local police department and get to know officers in a casual setting. “Be prepared for any conversation, and don’t shy away from it,” Officer Nelson encourages. “These are opportunities to really talk with your residents. Use it to your advantage and let them get to know you, not the uniform. Police are much more than that!”
  5. Collect feedback and follow up with residents. Officer Rich Cartwright of Kansas City Police Department has utilized Nextdoor to collect participant feedback following the department’s Coffee with a Cop events. Through his use of polls, he learned that residents prefer weekdays to weekends, and early evenings to early mornings. Helpful replies also confirm that residents are open to expanding the scope of conversations and hearing professionals speak on low-income housing, narcotics, and highway control through joint partnerships. Most importantly, the positive response to his Nextdoor post, which collected over 65 thanks from neighbors within 24 hours, reinforced the value of the events.

“These just put us in a different light. When we’re writing a traffic ticket, it’s usually a negative interaction for people. We don’t want that to be the only interaction that we have. The best thing about Coffee with a Cop is that it shows the community that we’re just like them,” shares Captain Kamran Afzal of the Arlington Police Department, who is a seasoned “Coffee” organizer. “Citizens start thinking ‘wow, these are our neighbors.’ That concept is so refreshing. As humans, we’re all guarded. But those guards come down on both sides with better community engagement.”

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A local resident meets with an officer during the Arlington Police Department’s Coffee with a Cop event.

Captain Afzal isn’t the only one to put his own spin on the event. The Atlanta Police Department used the premise as a launching point for their Cafecito with a Cop. Officer Miguel Lugo recognized that while Coffee with a Cop succeeded in strengthening some relationships, it fell short in reaching the Hispanic population of Atlanta, Georgia, a community that was often overlooked but one of the most important to engage. “There’s often a disconnect in what our Hispanic population believes to be true and what is actually true regarding the law,” Officer Lugo explained. “We are trying to battle misconceptions that prevent people from reaching out for help. At these Cafecitos, it’s about education. We’re here to answer the question that many Hispanic residents have, but do not ask – ‘What does the law say, what are my rights?’”

“Citizens start thinking ‘wow, these are our neighbors.’”
Atlanta Police Department’s inaugural Cafecito drew a crowd of 75. An open format allowed for casual conversation in which residents were able to clarify policies, ask questions, and interact with officers. Most importantly, there were fifteen organizations that shared public resources on issues related to health, domestic violence, fire safety, and immigration. This Cafecito is the first of many for the department, especially as they continue to engage their entire community.

Other departments that have hosted their first Coffee with a Cop are also eager for their next. Officer Nelson reflects, “It’s amazing how excited people get when they see how many officers are actually at the event. It shocks them initially, and then they’re thrilled by it. It’s this ten-second window where their eyeballs get really big and they start to grin. When we have to end, people are asking ‘Oh, it’s over?’ and that’s the best reaction we could get from our community.”

At Nextdoor, we are proud of our police partners. Coffee with a Cop might not solve all problems, but it certainly is a “sip” in the right direction.

If you’re a public agency interested in partnering with Nextdoor, please contact us here.

Special thanks to:

  • Officer Ed Bonchak of Euclid Police Department, OH
  • Captain Kamran Afzal of Arlington Police Department, VA
  • Public Information Officer Katie Nelson of Mountain View Police Department, CA
  • Officer Miguel Lugo of Atlanta Police Department, GA
  • Officer Rich Cartwright of Kansas City Police Department, MO

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