Members of the community had an opportunity to sit down with their local police officers and enjoy a “cuppa joe” at the inaugural Coffee with a Cop at Starbucks on North Jackson Street on Tuesday, April 15.
The event was the brainchild of Starbucks officials both locally and districtwide as an effort to increase community engagement.
According to Seth Van Hines, a store manager and community lead, the two-hour session is designed to let the community get to know the people behind the badge and relate to them on a personal level.
“I’m new to the district, and one of my passions is community outreach and community involvement,” he said. “I was looking for a way to really get us involved … and this was something I could do with a pretty quick turnaround. I put this idea out there, and everybody was like, ‘Yes, let’s do this!’”
He first approached the local store manager Dustin Wright to see if he would be willing to host the event. After Wright agreed to the idea, Van Hines then reached out to the Tullahoma Police Department to see if they would be willing to participate. He got equal enthusiasm from TPD, Van Hines said.
“They were very interested in coming out and chatting and meeting the people,” he said.
Another positive of the event was that it would hopefully change people’s attitudes toward police officers in the local community, Van Hines said.
“We see a lot of unrest and views about the police department in the world today that is not always just and right, so we want to create that space – we want people to get to know the people who are protecting them,” he said.
Creating a space where community members can come in and just talk about things that may weigh heavily on their minds can help to bridge the gap of misunderstanding people might have about their local police officers, Van Hines added.
“We just want to create that dialogue and create that space where people can come in and talk. They’re people – they’re humans too, and they’re doing this for us to help protect us,” he said.
Starbucks as a company strives to provide spaces where people can relax and communicate, Van Hines said, and if he can help foster dialogue between the community and the police force, it helps feed that modus operandi.
“If this is one way we can help to make people feel safer and make the cops feel safer, too, we want to do what we can,” he said.
For their part, TPD was also glad to see something like this come together.
Investigative Sgt. Harry Conway said part of the officers’ job is to be out in the community and to be available to people, and this was just one way that people could see that availability.
“This is a perfect opportunity to do that,” he said. “A lot of times, people have questions, and this is an opportunity to be available to answer those questions.”
As of 11 a.m., Conway said there had been a good showing of people willing to come out and discuss issues with himself and Evidence Technician Darrel Richards. The two were “stationed,” as it was, inside Starbucks from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesday ready to talk with anyone willing to stop by and say hello.
Conway was encouraged by how many people had stopped by and said TPD was willing to be involved with more events like these in the future, be they at Starbucks or other local businesses.
“Hopefully we’ll have more of them,” he said. “Definitely we’d like to see more of this interaction at any location … because it’s an opportunity the community can take advantage of.”
Social media usage and public service announcements in the newspaper can help get messages out into the community Conway said, but having face-to-face events like these allows for more personal connections between the police force and the community members.
“This is more personal, so this is something we’d like to see,” he said. “We’re glad that Starbucks combined with us to make this happen.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.