Sandburg Hall residents were greeted with coffee, cookies and cops on a recent Wednesday night, as the UW-Milwaukee Police Department hosted its semi-annual “Coffee with a Cop” event to promote goodwill, educate students, and address citizen concerns.
“There is no agenda or speeches at an event like this,” said Officer Craig Rafferty, who helps coordinate the event. “It’s for the officers to get to know the citizens, community and campus and for the community to get to know the officers that serve them.”
According to the official Coffee with a Cop website, the event strives to create a casual atmosphere to allow students to relax and get to know the officers and helps open the door for interactions outside of crisis situations. Launched in Hawthorne, California, the idea started as a result of a brainstorming session and quickly gained momentum across the country, eventually even branching out across seas.
It isn’t hard to see how Coffee with a Cop gained so much attention. As an event that promotes open and honest conversations between officers and the public, it also gives students and members of the community a chance to see the face behind the badge and the human-being beneath the uniform. Supporters say it helps show that, despite recent negative media coverage, police officers are really just regular people tasked with the ultimate responsibility of protecting the public and are often portrayed harshly as a group based on the actions of a few.
Listen to Officer Rafferty speak about the program:
“Growing up in the inner city of Milwaukee, I wasn’t always a police officer, so I understand some of the concerns that the citizens have, but then also being a police officer of 22 years, I can understand the law enforcement side, so I try to mend those together so people can see both views,” said Rafferty. “It allows them to try to come together and build those relationships because that’s where you got to start at, building relationships, building the trust with the people.”
According to Rafferty, the program is quickly “growing legs,” and gaining popularity – more students are stopping by for a chat and some coffee, while the officers are getting a closer look in to the lives of the students they protect.
“Every officer that participates reports back the excellent conversations they have with people that range from stories about their life, struggles they may be having or simply wanting to discuss career ideas and advice,” said UWM Chief of Police Joe LeMire. “The students have enjoyed themselves and certainly welcome a free cup of coffee or hot chocolate and some cookies.”
With growing unrest between citizens and police officers across the nation, events like Coffee with a Cop are intrinsic to helping dispel misconceptions about police and in breaking down barriers between the public and the officers that serve them, supporters say. Sarah Severson, a UWM freshman majoring in Early Childhood Education, said she enjoys these types of events because she feels like police officers aren’t accurately or fairly portrayed to the public for the services they provide.
“The police deserve something better, something like this [event],” said Severson. “This gives them a chance to get closer with students, and we get closer with them too. They are here to help us, not just arrest us.”
The UWM Police Department partners with different campus organizations to host the event, as well as The Grind coffeehouse, which donates the drinks and cookies.
“The event has special significance for us on campus as it gives us an opportunity to not only mix with students and staff under positive conditions, but we also get to partner with groups for each event we set,” said LeMire. “In the last year and a half, we have partnered with Black Student Union, LGBTQ Resource Center, Multi-Cultural Center, and the Faculty and Residence Life, to name a few.”
Though there isn’t really an agenda for the event, Coffee with a Cop provides an opportunity for officers to inform students about some of the services they offer including active shooter training, self-defense classes and free first responder CPR training. More information on these programs and some of the other services the UWM Police Department offers can be found at their homepage here.