Communication between Gaithersburg residents and city officials is vital for a healthy, well-functioning community, and no one knows that better than police officers.
As a result, over the past year the Gaithersburg Police Department has held several “Coffee With a Cop” events at local restaurants. Residents and officers meet in an informal atmosphere to discuss whatever is on people’s minds.
According to Officer Dan Lane, “Coffee With a Cop” is a national movement that aims to build trust between community members and police. “It’s a simple concept,” he said. “Police officers and community members come together in an informal, neutral space to discuss community issues, build relationships and drink coffee.”
The department began its version of the program in October 2012 after Lane heard an officer from another jurisdiction speak about it at a conference in the District of Columbia. “When I learned about their success with it, we thought we would try it here in Gaithersburg,” Lane said.
Since then, the department has held three “Coffee With a Cop” events. There is no formal agenda, and discussion topics have included speed cameras and other traffic-related issues, police procedures and training, police-related television shows and how they relate to real life (or not), residents’ own encounters with police, and concerns such as parking complaints and disputes with neighbors.
Lane said the program has been successful in part because it “removes the physical barriers that routinely exist between police officers and community members, allowing for the relaxed, one-on-one interactions that are the necessary foundation of partnerships.”
Most of those barriers, such as patrol cars and bullet-resistant glass at police stations, are just a reality of police work. Officers’ hectic schedules come into play as well.
“There’s the chance that an officer is busy with a call for service and the citizen does not want to bother that officer,” Lane said. “At these events, there are no barriers at all. It’s a calm and relaxing setting for everyone.”
Another benefit is that officers get to know residents enough to recognize some of them when out on patrol. Not only does that make the community seem like a friendlier place, but it makes officers’ jobs easier.
“I have had positive experiences when leaving ‘Coffee With a Cop’ events and have seen the same people I spoke with at other venues and places,” Lane said. “Informal contact in a friendly atmosphere increases trust between police officers and the members of our community, which is critical to public safety and problem solving.”
All in all, Lane said the program has been a “great success.”
“The reactions and relationships that we have left with have been memorable to both the officers and citizens,” he said.
Although plans have not yet been finalized, Lane said the department’s goal is to hold two “Coffee With a Cop” events in October at the Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks in the Kentlands.