By Liz Tenney Jarvis.
On Monday, March 7, the Purcellville Police Department hosted their first "Coffee with a Cop." Purcellville police officers and members of the community gathered at Market Street Coffee to discuss community issues and concerns regarding law enforcement. Having a cup of coffee together set the tone of the meeting: casual and informal. Attendees were able to ask questions and find out more about the work being done in neighborhoods all over town. In addition to area residents, Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, local town officials present were Town Council member and Mayoral candidate Joan Lehr, Council candidate Sandy Nave, and Town Council Member Karen Jimmerson.
According to the Town: “The majority of interactions that law enforcement has with the public happen during emergencies or emotional situations. Those situations are not always the most effective times for relationship building with the community, and some community members may feel that officers are unapproachable on the street. Coffee with a Cop breaks down barriers and allows for a relaxed, one-on-one interaction.”
Chief McAlister explained that, "Good relationships are the foundation to good partnerships. It is my hope that the community always feels comfortable to ask us questions, bring their concerns to us, or simply get to know our officers.” Chief McAlister and the Purcellville Police Department’s plan for Coffee With A Cop is to have it serve as one platform for residents to “meet with me and the officers to share their concerns, ideas, and comments pertaining to their law enforcement services. It also serves as an avenue for us to have an opportunity to build relationships and get to know each other.”
Monday’s “Coffee with a Cop” session was part of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s Third annual public safety tour. The tour kicked off in Purcellville with AG Herring joining Chief McAlister as an “observer.” He also planned to discuss his training/community policing initiatives, work he’s doing to combat the heroin/prescription drug crisis, anti-human-trafficking efforts, and other initiatives in the Office of the Attorney General.
“Over the last year we’ve really focused on the ways that we can support good work being done at the local level to promote mutual trust and respect between Virginia law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginia law enforcement understands that they have to be a product and a reflection of their communities in order to be successful, and that no one wins when trust and lines of communication break down. That makes our communities less safe, it endangers our officers, and it makes it harder to solve crimes and hold criminals accountable. Community policing is a critical method of two-way communication that ensures law enforcement and citizens are working together to promote safe, successful communities. This tour is going to be an opportunity to shine a light on some good work being done around the state, to learn what else we can do to support our communities and law enforcement agencies, and to let folks around the state know about the work we are doing for them in the Attorney General’s office.”
The first Coffee With a Cop went very well, according to Chief McAlister. “Although we would like to have a Coffee With A Cop every Monday, as it was a great way to start the week, our plan is to host one every other month at various locations in town. My hope is that the more we have Coffee With A Cop, the more people will hear about them and find time to join us!”
Coffee with a Cop is a national initiative supported by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The program aims to advance the practice of community policing through improving relationships between police officers and community members one cup of coffee at a time!