- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - An Orangeburg woman wanted to know how she can get police to patrol her neighborhood.

The answer given during Orangeburg’s first Coffee with a Cop meeting is to call the law enforcement agency that covers your neighborhood.

“That is actually the goal of Coffee with a Cop, to offer communication between the public and this agency,” Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Chief Wendell Davis said.

The Coffee with a Cop meeting hosted by the department is designed to bring together three Cs: community, cops, and, of course, a cup of coffee or two.

The face-to-face sit-down was held recently at the John C. Calhoun Drive McDonald’s, where about 25 officers were available to discuss community concerns.

It was a casual atmosphere. For most. Some said before the meeting that the coffee sit-down was a ploy to serve warrants. Police said that wasn’t the case. No one was arrested.

You didn’t have to actually sit down with an officer. Some received their counter order and asked a quick question on their way out. But if you had time, you could sit down with officers for the entire two hours of the event.

Questions about patrols and case progression were brought up by residents. Cpl. Mitch Jackson said many times residents aren’t sure what to do, for example, if they are victims of crime or want more police presence around their property.

“The easiest thing to do is call and ask,” he said.

Some folks did turn around at the door at the sight of so many officers. But that was only a few, and most others joined in.

Peter Lee of Orangeburg said he’d read about the Coffee with a Cop initiative. He likes the idea of partnering with law enforcement to address community issues. Residents live in it, police protect it, so Lee feels residents should do their part to help.

“We should support them like they support us,” he said.

Orangeburg resident William Johnson said the idea of sitting down with an officer is a positive step toward building relationships. Many times the public perception of law enforcement is negative because of a traffic stop or other contact with police.

But the Coffee program shows the community that police are here to listen to what concerns the community most, Johnson said.

“It lets the community know the public safety officers are attainable,” he said. “All you have to do is reach out.”

Officers say Johnson hit the nail on the head. The program is designed to bring residents and law enforcement together in a setting other than a traffic stop or an investigation during which police may seem too focused to listen.

Capt. Ed Conner said the program removes those work-related obstacles that may prevent an officer’s approachability.

“One of the most important things about this is we don’t have any barriers, (like) taking an incident report or statement,” he said, “as opposed to talking about important issues in the community.”

The program started a few years ago in Hawthorne, Calif., where officers were trying to come up with a way to better address community concerns. It’s since spread across the United States, with events going on just about daily.

Coffee with a Cup was introduced to Orangeburg after a training class by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Community Policing Services. The one-day class in Charleston informed attending agencies from around the country about the benefits for both the officers and residents in their jurisdictions.

Davis said the coffee shop conversations are to show a resident that his or her concern isn’t too small or too large to address.

With the success of the first event, plans are in the works for another in a few months.

“While we believe we have a really good connection, we always want to improve it,” Davis said. “Even if you try to maintain some level, in a sense, you’re going backward. We want to go forward.”


Information from: The Times & Democrat, https://www.timesanddemocrat.com

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