Lorain cops using coffee, chat to connect with community

Lorain residents came face-to-face with some police officers patrolling the city while enjoying a cup of coffee and a sweet treat during a Coffee with a Cop event.

For the vast majority of citizens, their only interaction with a police officer is when they are being pulled over for a traffic violation or are the victim of a crime. Coffee with a cup provided the setting for a much less stressful interaction.

At long tables set up in a boardroom at The Shipyards, 500 Shipyard Way, residents and officers of the Lorain Police Department who were sworn to protect them engaged in freewheeling discussions on topics ranging from neighborhood watch to concealed possession laws while they took a sip of free coffee provided by Monkey Island Coffee and received a first-hand view of The Shipyards.

Officer Chris Ferenzi shakes hands with locals at a Coffee with a Cop on June 18 at The Shipyards. (Michael Fitzpatrick – The Morning Journal)

Just an hour into the June 18 event, scheduled to last four hours, approximately 25 residents had stopped, said Lt. Jacob Morris.

“We are excited to participate,” Morris said. “There are people who are raising questions about security; questions about how to be a more active member of the community and how to take ownership of the safety of your neighborhoods and, to be honest, this is a dream come true for a police officer.”

Coffee with a Cop is a national program. The idea behind the program is to allow police departments to reach out to the community and learn about their concerns and ideas about policing. The program’s roots go back to 2011, when the Hawthorne, California Police Department. was debating ways to interact with the community. Someone suggested getting the officers and residents together for coffee, and so the program began.

“We can have open and honest conversations,” Morris said. “We talked about everything from open gates, to noise laws, to drug dealing and related issues, to neighborhood surveillance,” Morris said.

Residents received a free mug of coffee and some conversations with Lorain police officers during the Coffee with a Cop event on June 18 at the Shipyards.  (Michael Fitzpatrick - The Morning Diary)
Residents received a free mug of coffee and some conversations with Lorain police officers during the Coffee with a Cop event on June 18 at the Shipyards. (Michael Fitzpatrick – The Morning Journal)

Earl Head, president of the NAACP’s Lorain chapter, attended the event.

“I’m making a lot of new friends and contacts,” said Head. “I’m learning a lot of things about the community that I didn’t know were happening, so I’m finding it very interesting.”

How to establish community crime surveillance was one of the things Head learned, he said. Currently, there are criminal watchdog groups in the eastern and southern neighborhoods of the city, but nothing in the west. Head, who lives on the West Side, said he plans to change that and will use the information he gathered at the meeting to help volunteers create safer neighborhoods.

“Instead of trying to start from scratch, I will be able to collaborate,” said Head.

Head also learned about the city’s programs designed to provide services and help to people suffering from mental illness. He wants to start the same type of program and has said he will use the knowledge and experience of similar programs when creating his own.

The crowd leaned towards an older demographic. Head said he wished he’d seen more young people there.

“I’m trying to reach younger people, but what I’m finding is they’re like, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Until we find a way to fill that gap… I’m going to keep hitting this stumbling block. But I’m planting the seed,” Head said.

As far as getting the police and a younger sect — teens and twenties — to sit down and talk, the police may have to tweak the program a bit, Morris said.

“We’re going to find the version of Coffee with a Cop that works for them,” Morris said. “Maybe it’s a video game tournament or something. If we find a demographic in need, we will find a way to adapt something that is more appealing to them.”

And it won’t be the last Coffee with a Cop event, Morris said. The department is planning at least four more by the end of the year.

“The intention is to have it in different locations around the city and also show other companies that might want to host it,” Morris said.

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