BRATTLEBORO >>Police gathered at the Restless Rooster Friday morning, not to address a crime, but rather to enjoy coffee and discussion with the local community.
The Restless Rooster, located at 134 Elliot St of Brattleboro hosted yet another Coffee with a Cop session where the Brattleboro Police Department employees took some time out of their day to chat with the community. CWaC was launched in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2011 and has since been present in more than 2000 communities throughout 49 states. In addition, the program has expanded to Canada, Europe, Australia and Africa. The key to this gathering is that it opens the door for interactions outside of the crisis situations that typically bring law enforcement officers and community members together.
"The first time we hosted Coffee with a Cop, I think people were a little hesitant to talk to us; I mean everyone is nervous when talking to a cop, that's just how it is," said Detective Ryan Washburn. "But now almost two years later, we're getting a good outcome and people feel comfortable talking to us about anything."
Washburn and Officer Adam Petlock spearheaded this group in Brattleboro during the spring of 2014.
On Dec. 18, the get-together was standing room only as seven members of the BPD were present at the event which ran from 8 to 10 a.m. Around 9 a.m. every officer was fully engaged in a conversation with a cup of coffee in hand. Some topics of interest that were covered included addiction, homelessness, the police/fire improvement project, trespassing, mental illness and much more. Aside from the discussions that went on, Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald gave a recap of 2015 and briefly described where the department will focus its attention on for this upcoming year.
"We're going to see a lot more community action from the department, that's what we're really going to be focusing on," said Fitzgerald. He also noted that they will be focusing on hiring and retention within the department as well as the police/fire project.
In terms of trends related to crime in the area, Fitzgerald said he did not notice anything out of the ordinary in comparison to previous years. However he said that he would like to see a lot of "interdiction work" in the future. In lieu of the department's goals to community engagement, Fitzgerald feels that they have already begun to reach that goal through Coffee with a Cop.
"How many times do you get to sit down with a cop and talk about anything you want? Normally, if you're having a conversation with a cop, they're probably directing where that conversation is going and why, but here the rules are reversed," said Fitzgerald. He added that the department hears a wide range of questions and that this gathering allows citizens to see the police in a different light.
"They see us as community members, they see us as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, brothers, sisters, neighbors — they don't see the badge. They just come in and see a regular person having a cup of coffee, talking about the Patriots or whatever," said Fitzgerald.
Officers on shift came and went through the two-hour Coffee with a Cop gathering. However the officers and detectives were not the only ones present at the event.
Kristen Neuf, a social worker hired by Health Care and Rehabilitation Services that is imbedded in the Brattleboro Police Department often rides in the cruiser with the officers to acute situations that typically involve mental health or social issues. She works with dozens of agencies in the area such as the Brattleboro Retreat, the Warming Shelter and the substance abuse facilities. She has a degree in psychology and has worked in the criminal justice system as a probation officer and as a substance abuse counselor in the jail system. She has also worked with foster children;, at a psychiatric facility and at a hospital on the medical surgery floor for 17 years.
"I think Coffee with a Cop has been very successful in that the people in the community really continue to see the police department on a more relaxed preventive strength based approach," said Neuf. "And that has inspired a lot of communication and meetings that they or I attend. We're doing the best we can to stay connected to the community."