A meet-and-greet (and sip) with Salem’s police officers
“What’s your favorite color?” a small boy asked Salem police’s Deputy Chief Skip Miller.
“It’s blue, can’t you tell?” Miller replied, pointing to his uniform.
That was just one of the scores of questions Salem police officers were asked during the city’s first Coffee with a Cop event. Broadway Coffeehouse was packed Friday morning with residents who wanted to meet officers, thank them and learn about what they do.
Senior Officer Kris Knox said most of the people she talked to asked questions about issues they were seeing in their neighborhoods. They didn’t feel like it was important to call someone, but felt comfortable bringing them up when they were surrounded by officers visiting over coffee.
Ron Noble and Lando Friefen came to talk about how loud motorcycles and trucks are.
Friefen told Officer Sean Bennett that he thinks people worry about reporting any kind of crime because they don’t want to have their name connected to it.
Bennett said people can call the non-emergency line to make an anonymous report but that he encouraged them to at least give permission for an officer to contact them. Police can learn a lot more about the issue when they’re able to talk with someone instead of only being able to read the complaint.
One mother brought a list of questions her child wanted to ask, including whether the office had ever arrested someone. Someone new to town wanted to know if Salem was safe, so he came down to ask the police. One man just wanted to meet as many officers as possible, said Lt. Dave Okada.
The department staffed the event with officers from a wide variety of assignments including narcotics detectives, patrol officers, school resource officers, SWAT members and the downtown enforcement team, among others.
If someone had a specific issue — such as, what can I do about the meth house down the block from me — they could be directed to someone who actually deals with that issue.
“If nothing else, we get the ball rolling out there,” Okada said.
The event is one of many Coffee with a Cop events throughout the country. They’re funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Officers from the Hawthorne Police Department in Southern California came up to train Salem police and other agencies about how to hold a meet-and-greet with the public. They counseled them about the kind of questions they would be asked and recommended not having too many officers there so that people didn’t feel overwhelmed, Okada said.
Soon after the event began, organizers realized they would need to double the amount of officers they brought. Twenty officers ended up coming to mingle with the crowd, Okada said.
Sgt. Robbie Miller, one of the trainers, told Salem’s deputy chief, “This is gangbuster. You guys rocked it.”
Miller, who has attended around 100 of these events, said Salem’s is one of the best he’s seen. You can tell there’s no love lost between either the public or the police force because of bad outcomes of the past, he said.
Knox said every person she spoke with during the event was supportive of the department and offered their thanks.
Knox spoke at length with a woman who came out wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, which has become the rallying cry of a movement affirming the validity of black life after strife between police and minorities made national news. She had legitimate questions which she asked respectively as she tried to learn about policing, Knox said.
The hostile relationships between police forces and citizens throughout the country take a toll on officers, even if tensions aren’t high in their local communities, Knox said. Seeing people come out to get to know them, to thank them and to give them cookies is refreshing, Knox said.
“Wow, what a blessing,” she said. “There are a lot of cops who aren’t in good work environments and it’s just nice that that’s not Salem.”
Knox said that throughout her 26 years on the force, she’s always felt the Salem Police Department has had a good relationship with the community. It’s nice that the work they’ve done throughout the years is seeing them through this difficult time of national strife, she said.