Police converse with locals over coffee

by Katie Rafter | 11/9/14 7:44pm

Blue balloons reading “coffee with a cop” adorned Umpleby’s Bakery and Cafe, as four police officers spent two hours Saturday morning chatting with local residents over coffee.

Around 50 community members attended the event, meant to be a positive and relaxed space for police to communicate with the public, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said.

Dennis said most interactions between the public and police occur under high stress, so Saturday was meant to offer an alternative.

The event also aimed to inform community members about police department initiatives.

Dennis spoke of the importance of strong relationships between the police and community, especially following recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on Aug. 9, leading to riots and questions about the role of law enforcement.

“If you look at other communities throughout the United States where there are issues, in many of them there is not a trust factor,” he said. “I think many times when you have that relationship and you have that trust, there’s certainly more understanding.”

Patrol officer Shannon Kuehlwein, who also attended, echoed Dennis.

“Any communication we have with the public, especially informally, is good,” Kuehlwein said.

Dennis said he hopes to make Coffee With A Cop a monthly event and hopes to organize a similar event at Dartmouth.

When Hanover police takes an 18- to 20-year-old into protective custody for unlawful possession of alcohol or unlawful possession and intoxication, the responding officer can offer the individual the option of participating in the Hanover Alcohol Diversion Program, which offers first-time underage drinking offenders an educational alternative to court.

Bobbie Hitchcock said she attended due to her interest in the relationship between law enforcement and the public. The public benefits from speaking to those tasked with protecting the community, she said.

Hitchcock said she had a “good experience” and that the officer she spoke with answered her questions to the best of his ability, but declined to specify the topic of their conversation.

The Coffee with a Cop initiative began in California in March 2011. Since then, it has spread to more than 175 cities and towns in 36 states, according to the project’s website.

Those who attended the Hanover event can provide anonymous feedback to the Hanover Police Department through the national website.