Coffee with a Cop

It’s a typical Wednesday afternoon when several police cars pull up and park outside the neighborhood Starbucks. As a general rule one police car is pretty normal and sometimes there might even be two. On this Wednesday there’s three that are noticeable right away and a fourth pops out from behind another row of cars. What’s going on?

Students from Cashman Middle School line up for refreshments and a chance to talk to LVMPD

LVMPD Officers look on as students and police officers interact during the "Coffee with a Cop" event.

Metro officer takes photo with Starbucks Manager & Team 

There’s definitely more people inside than I expected even though it is 2:30 in the afternoon and the school across the street has just let out. The manager of this Starbucks refers to this hour as the “kid rush” and it’s no accident that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department picked the hour between 2:00 and 3:00 to host “Coffee with a Cop”.

So what does it take to put on an event like this? Coffee? Check! Cookies? Check! A handful of pleasant police officers? Check! Last but not least, students from the middle school, in this case Cashman Middle School. Truth be told, I came here specifically because I knew LVMPD was hosting this event today. Mostly, I saw what I expected, but there was a surprise secret ingredient to this particular afternoon. As I sat down and put my laptop on the table I looked around and noticed something I haven’t seen in … I don’t really know how long. Every single person in this Starbucks, including employees, the handful of police officers, the adult customers, and even the teenagers … were smiling. All of them.

Surely, if a cookie and a cup of coffee were all it takes to get pleasantries from a teenager, somebody would have done that years ago. Of course, the cookies didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t the cookies so much as the people in the room. One officer identified by the student to my left as “Officer Sal” announced loudly that anyone wanting one of the prized stickers he was holding up would be required to perform what Officer Sal referred to as a “feat of strength”. More specifically, he wanted some pushups. Officer Sal then pointed to a particular young man and said, “How about you? How many push-ups can you do?”

I didn’t hear the student’s answer and after watching this dance a half dozen times it became apparent that officer Sal has his own method for defining the commensurate challenge for each volunteer. After having a few takers a man and his son came over to take Officer Sal up on his challenge. “One! Two! Three!” Officer Sal counted out as the young man muscled through each push-up. The young man’s dad used his cell phone to record his son’s “feat of strength” smiling throughout.

As the young man approached the end of his allotted number Officer Sal yelled out, “One more for Sal!” to which the young man obliged.“One more for the Marines!” Sal shouted. Again, the young man delivered. As he stood up, Dad snapped a quick pic of his son with Officer Sal and they returned to their seats, satisfied and proud.

My guess is “Push-Ups with Cops” wouldn’t have likely been the same draw, but it added to the festive vibe in the room nonetheless.

As Officer Sal perused the room full of students and adults (who were also invited to perform feats of strength, with none volunteering) another officer mingled with the students. Her brand of interaction was somewhere between one's favorite aunt and that really cool neighbor who always remembered to ask about how your pets were doing and how you did on the test you were studying for. Still looking every bit the part of a serious law enforcement professional she slightly shocked one young man when she reached over and said, “Come over here.” as she put both her hands on the young man’s face to gently wipe away some milk from his upper lip.

In an act of kindness, an officer helps a young man to go out into the World in a more presentable fashion

“Your friends didn’t even tell you that was there, but I’m not letting you go out like that. Come on guys!” the officer quipped to the young man’s friends. Everybody laughed. That moment went from a slight surprise to a pleasant and gentle act of kindness. The impressive part was how effortless it was on the part of the officer. In fact, I think it took more effort from the surprised young man as he went from slightly startled, to vulnerable, to grateful.

This same officer made a point to thank two other young men for being “good quality kids” after an act of kindness on their part. A short time earlier somebody spilled coffee near the LVMPD cookie / coffee table. As the officer picked up the spilled cup and straw she went off to find the receptacle to dispose of them. When she returned to the spill, two young men, both students of Cashman Middle School, were cleaning up the spill. It wasn’t their spill, but nevertheless they stepped in and cleaned it up. It would appear, this experiment of community camaraderie is working for all involved.

It wasn’t all cookies and push-ups, however. One student asked the officer “Why are there so many police at our school right now?” to which she replied, “It’s just out of an abundance of caution because of the social media stuff that’s been going around.” referring to the recent onslaught of threats of school violence being posted on social media. So far, none of the threats have resulted in any violence. The student continued by telling the officer that they felt the threats were hoaxes to which the officer replied, “You don’t want to not take it seriously and then realize it’s one of the times we needed to be there.” The student nodded and thanked the officer. Let me emphasize that a little ... The student THANKED the officer.

Emily Atchley, the Manager of this Starbucks location told me that this was only the third time LVMPD hosted this event at her store. “Starbucks has always had as part of our mission to build and maintain a connection to our surrounding community.” Atchley said. “These officers are connecting with the students and the students are connecting with them.” she continued. Obviously important to Atchley as well as to Starbucks she desires more of these events in the future.

When asked when these events first began, Tiffany Gassett, a Crime Prevention Specialist and one of the organizers of the event stated “We’ve been doing these for about eight years.” she said. “We don’t always do them in the same location and they aren’t always ‘Coffee with a Cop’” she added. “Sometimes we do ‘Cookie with a Cop’ or some other thing that fits the area and the need.”

Clearly these opportunities to interact between the community and law enforcement are a good and necessary thing. Manager Atchly said, “These types of things are important because they give the young people a chance to see these officers as real people and to know that they are there for them.” which was evident throughout the hour, but moreover it appears to be a two way street as the police officers were also smiling and enjoying the company of the community they serve. In three short events lasting roughly an hour each it is clear to see that bonds have already been formed between the community and those who serve the community as they laughed, learned, and shared a cookie and a cup of coffee on a typical Wednesday afternoon.