Coffee with a Cop fosters fellowship, discourse between VPD and community members

VPD Officers and residents enjoy coffee, conversation at Sandbox Coffeehouse.

by Jared Brewer

On Thursday, June 29, the Ventura Police Department hosted Coffee with a Cop at Sandbox Coffeehouse from 9:00 until 11:00 a.m. in an effort to create a friendly, informal environment for officers and residents alike to discuss community issues, forge relationships, and enjoy a good cup of coffee together.

However, the VPD is not alone in hosting such events; Coffee with a Cop is a nationwide initiative supported by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, with similar events being held all across the country. As a whole, the program aims to advance the practice of community policing by improving the overall relationships between police officers and community members.

Corporal Al Gomez, who has been with the Ventura Police Department for 17 years, is a long-time proponent of bridging the divide between citizens and police officers. And five years ago, he helped organize Curbside Coffee and Chat, which sends school resource officers to every elementary and middle school throughout the Ventura Unified School District. Though he no longer supervises the program, Gomez underscored the continued importance of facilitating positive police-community relations: “Events like Curbside Coffee and Chat or Coffee with a Cop provide avenues for us to talk to the community and show them that we care and want to help them with whatever problems they have. Sometimes it may not seem that way, but ultimately that’s our goal.”

Because the majority of contacts between the police and the public occur during emergencies or high-stress situations, opportunities to establish rapports, ask questions, or simply learn more about the department’s services, are often limited. “Unfortunately, most people in the community only see us when they are involved with a minor crime or are victims of some kind,” said Officer Trenner Marchetti. “The reality is that we are usually there because we have to be, not because we or anyone else wants us to be. Coffee with a Cop creates a low-stress environment for us, as officers, to be able to get to know the community and show them that there’s a different side to us.” Marchetti has been with the VPD for 12 years and is currently working as a part of the Major Crimes Unit.

Several community members present cited increased approachability as a primary reason to attend Coffee with a Cop. “It takes a little bit of the fear out of meeting with police officers,” said Myriah Gonzales, outreach coordinator with the Coalition for Family Harmony and crisis advocate at California State University, Channel Islands. “They’re carrying guns, they have the uniforms on, and that’s often scary to people. So to meet them in a casual place—and be able to put faces and names to people that might be helping them—that’s the importance for the community.”

Emily Wisma, herself an aspiring police officer, lamented current public opinion of the police: “Police officers are peace officers,” she said. “They’re here to help us and to keep the community safe. And I think a lot of them really need us to understand that right now because they’re being portrayed so negatively in the media. They’re here for our safety, not to beat us or arrest us.”

For more information, or to request Coffee with a Cop at your business, please email abautista@venturapd.org or call 339-4317.

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