The Bojangles parking lot on Merrimon Avenue was packed the morning of Jan. 24, spilling over into the adjacent lots. But it was no ordinary mad rush for biscuits that crowded the asphalt. Many of the spaces are occupied by the white decal-laden squad cars of the Asheville Police Department, as they held the first of what they hope will be many “Coffee with a Cop” events.
“This is our maiden voyage,” said Keith McCulloch, Crime Prevention Officer for the Asheville Police Department, who worked to bringing the national program to the city.
The idea is to bring the community and its public servants together in a “non-stressful, non-crisis situation,” and allow them to “sit and talk about anything and everything,” he said.
“It started in Hawthorne, California,” McCulloch said. “And it’s spread to 175 cities in 36 states. … We’re here for the community, and they can come for anything: concerns, venting or just to talk. We don’t want the community to feel concerned or hesitant about approaching us.”
About 60 people showed up for the inaugural program over its two hours, with nearly 20 police officers stopping by as well. All six of the city’s Community Resource Officers were there for the duration, but many of the rank-and-file patrol officers dropped by.
“Saturday morning’s a good time for officers to come by between calls,” said Todd Brigman, CRO for North Asheville and a nine-year veteran of the department. “Our job is community policing, and each time [there’s a program] we want to try a different location to pull people from those areas.”
“We normally speak formally,” said Ron Patton of Town Mountain, who was speaking with Brigman. “Here, we’re just talking about personal issues and family.”
“I love it,” said Mandy Chase of West Asheville. Chase was speaking in depth with Officer Kevin Skonieczny, who works in that area. “I would encourage more people to come. I’m over here asking [Skonieczny] ‘what’s going on? What do I need to know?’ — while my husband is over there talking to [Officer Sean Davis] about their favorite movies.”
“It’s nice to be able to recognize the officers,” she continued.
“I’ve been very impressed,” said Officer Lucas Lovelace, who’s been with the force for five years. “It’s great for the community to see us like this.”
District Attorney Todd Williams, recently elected to his first term, also attended.
“I wanted to show support,” he said. “APD has a number of good officers, and I’m very encouraged to see the turnout. There have been issues both locally and nationally that have impacted the public perception of police officers, and this is a great opportunity for the community to get to know our public servants. I appreciate the efforts of Officer McCulloch to get this going.”
McCulloch hopes to make the programs a monthly item, each in a different part of the city: North, South, East, West and Central, with the ultimate goal of getting people from those specific communities involved.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t go to one if you live in another district,” he said. “But we want to get them tailored to each community.”
Citizens, he says, will be able to go on the programs main website, coffeewithacop.com, and leave feedback: “We can use this as a positive way to find out if we’re doing a good job.”
As for the morning’s event, McCulloch believes it was a definite success: “For a first time event, on a cold, wet, rainy Saturday morning, we’ve seen a lot of people come through.”
In the end, he says, events like this “build the trust and partnership with the community. There’s no agenda. We just invite people to come and have a cup of coffee.”