RED BANK – It was an opportunity to get your morning caffeine jolt and maybe ask borough police a question, or raise a point or two about police work.
Members from the borough Police Department, including Chief Darren McConnell, participated Tuesday morning in what could be the first in a series of “Coffee with a Cop” gatherings, giving the public a chance to meet and converse with department members in a neutral environment. “It’s an opportunity to break down that barrier,” that can exist between police and the public, McConnell offered about the program. Readies Café, 39 Broad St., hosted the program, where owner Tom Fishkin offered coffee and breakfast to participants.
The idea for the event came from Patrolman Jorge Torres, who noticed departments in northern New Jersey, where he lives, had begun hosting this type of program to improve community outreach efforts.
The Coffee with a Cop program started in 2011, in Hawthorne, California, with the U.S. Department of Justice offering its support for the initiative. Since 2,000 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states have undertaken the program and it has been adopted outside the U.S., in Canada, Europe, Australia and Africa, according to the Department of Justice. The federal department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services designated Oct. 7, 2016 as the first annual national Coffee with a Cop Day.
McConnell was joined by a handful of department members, including two detectives, officers with the traffic division and patrol officers, giving the public an opportunity to interact with the officers, and ask questions in a casual atmosphere.
Traditionally, at community outreach sessions or at official gatherings, such as borough council meetings, McConnell noted, he’s usually the one department member available; this event gave the public a chance to meet and talk with officers they would not likely come in contact with during the course of an average day.
“It seemed like a good idea to get different officers, different age groups,” to speak to the public.
The program ran from 8-9:30 a.m. with roughly eight to 10 officers on hand. The hours were selected to try and reach out “to the morning crowd,” McConnell explained, who might not have the opportunity to attend evening borough activities. “It seemed like a good way to hit another group we don’t usually meet,” he said.
Unfortunately, for much of the 90 minutes of this first try, police outnumbered the public who stopped by.
Given this was the first attempt at the program, “It’s hard to predict what kind of crowd we’ll get,” said Torres.
Friends Donna Como and Roxanne Margadonna were glad they attended. Como, a borough resident, had seen signs around the community advertising the event and suggested they go. Margadonna, Middletown, said, “I have great respect for police officers and I wanted to show my support.”
Como, who conducts art classes for seniors in a number of municipalities, including Middletown, echoed her friend’s position on police, “I wanted to show my support.”
“I was stopped one time,” by a Red Bank patrolman in a traffic stop, Margadonna said, noting, “He was so nice and respectful.”
Red Bank resident Leo Morrissey came by after seeing the same signs around the community. “I wanted to see what it was all about,” he said. He had some questions about traffic – especially about the busy Front Street/Broad Street intersection and the noisy motorcycles he hears.
Morrissey hoped the department would continue the program given, “It seems like a good idea.”
“It’s a learning experience,” McConnell said of the exercise. In the future, the department may look for a location closer to the NJ Transit train station to engage commuters, or possibly do it on a Saturday morning to encourage a broader community cross section.
This article was first published in the April 6-13, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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