The Basics of Hosting Your Own Coffee with a Cop
First and foremost, Coffee with a Cop events are about interacting with the community. The most successful events are the ones that follow the natural flow of the public’s interest and are open, casual, and inviting. Remembering to keep an event simple allows flexibility for all those involved and provides the most opportunity for genuine engagement.
Coffee with a Cop events are mutually beneficial to law enforcement departments and the community. The benefits for law enforcement departments include:
- Strengthened community policing
- Continued department branding
- Enhanced social media and communication
- Increased officer-citizen engagement
- Developed and strengthened citizen trust
The benefits for the community include:
- Strengthened voice
- Reinforced understanding of officer duties
- Increased citizen-officer engagement
- Developed and strengthened officer trust
- Enhanced cultural awareness
The two most important elements for success
- Plan to have a host who is responsible for making sure officers are engaging and serves as a point of contact for the location and media. Ideally, this is an individual with a charismatic personality and who has a strong knowledge of the department’s goals for the event. They need to be able to be both a promoter and a conversation starter.
- Remind all officers participating to engage and interact but not to overwhelm or intimidate. Disperse participants throughout the room with a few greeting at the entrance and others sitting or standing throughout the room actively looking to engage community members in conversation. Remember not to have officers congregate together; this becomes intimidating to shy community members.
A Good Host Keeps the Conversations Flowing and Everyone Engaged
At a party, the host is usually running around making sure everyone is having a good time and making sure there is plenty of food, drinks, and entertainment. The host for a Coffee with a Cop event is the same. Pick a host — officer or civilian — that has the authority and personality to direct officers to engage and move around the event and has a good relationship (or can create one) with the location staff/manager. Remember, every event has to have someone in charge. The host will make all the difference whether the event is a success or not so much.
The host serves several additional duties:
- Posting flyers and notices
- Bringing trinkets/giveaways
- Keeping the coffee pots full
- Having a plan if media show up*
*The host does not have to be the spokesperson for the department but have a plan ready. Select a person that will be the spokesperson. If it is live TV, have officers that are ready to go on camera to talk about the event. It is best to have line-level officers included rather than a public information officer doing all of the talking.
Hosts should be prepared to intervene when needed.
- Circle of Death
Cops love to congregate in groups to talk about work. Host should break these circles up and ask the officers to disperse around the location.
- 8th Grade Wallflowers
Cops also like to stand in the corner looking at their phone or stand at the corner and be hesitant to approach people. An active host will bring a community member to the officer to get them engaged.
- The Save
Seeing officers being lengthily engaged in conversation with only one individual, hosts should be prepared to come thank the person they are with and ask that officer to come with you, freeing the officer up for more conversation with more
citizens. This often happens to chiefs and sheriffs that are at the event.
- Circle of Death
Where You Meet Can Determine Your Success
Hold the event at a place that has a high turnover such as a coffee shop or fast food restaurant. This helps encourage engagement with a larger number of people over the short time period the events typically last.
Avoid sit-down restaurants where people will sit at a table for a long period of time; this eliminates stagnation that can bring meaningful and continued conversation to a halt.
Don’t have Coffee with a Cop in a back room or closed off location —people will think it’s a meeting!
Choose a location that is in a high-traffic area — either pedestrian or vehicular — in an effort to bring as many people to the event as easily as possible.
Don’t park too many police cars out front; it will look like a crime scene to those who do not know what is going on.
Also remember, this isn’t a town hall meeting or about your agency bringing out all the “toys” (e.g., SWAT trucks, bearcats, displays) to show off.
Be Strategic When Picking When to Hold a Coffee with a Cop Event
Hold your event during the location’s busy times so you get to talk with people who are normally at the location for coffee or breakfast. Work directly with the location to decide on a good time and date. Perhaps Tuesdays are their busiest day and Fridays are slow. Maybe their “regular crowd” are early birds coming in at 7 a.m. or perhaps they get crowded at break time mid-morning.
Before selecting a date, look at community calendars to see if there is any overlap. Try to plan around events that may take the crowd away.
You will often get different crowd demographics depending on the day and time of the event as families tend to come on weekends while commuters and workers tend to come to earlier weekday events.
For those hosting recurring Coffee with a Cop events, there are two strategies to consider:
- Selecting a static recurring date to make it easy for the community to remember. For example, hosting the first Monday of every month.
- Selecting rotating days to meet more schedules. For example, host on a Monday morning one month, then a Thursday afternoon the next. This opens up the attendance to folks with differing schedules.
Determine What Department Participants Will Be Involved
Community members want to hear from all ranks and positions. Include office participants from different areas — traffic, K-9, dispatch — and ranks. They are just as interested to talk to a rookie as they are to a seasoned veteran. Chiefs and command staff should arrive a little late and not stay long; otherwise, the attention may focus on them and turn the event into a coffee with the chief instead of getting to the heart of the program, which is getting line-level officers engaged with the community.
Keep in mind, though, that command Staff should be available if they know local politicians or ViPs that may attend. City council members often show up, and while it’s good that they do, it can change if they are there to make it about them. Command staff can step in and engage the politicians.
Make sure there is a balance of officers and citizens. Having too many officers can be intimidating, not enough is overwhelming to officers. Place officers in the field on standby in case you need more. If you have a smaller or rural agency, think about partnering with the state police or highway patrol and other agencies that share a border with yours.
Wear what you normally wear to work; no need for dress uniforms. Citizens love to see who we really are as people, and it is comforting to see us the same way they may see us on duty around town.
Think like a First Date; It’s About Getting to Know One Another
Coffee with a Cop is about intimate communication, person to person where there are no barriers to a good conversation. You don’t have to talk about crime or “police stuff;” try talking about sports, community, food, or anything else because you will find that we all have a lot in common.
It’s okay to agree to disagree; that is part of the honesty and transparency. Remember, the core of Coffee with a Cop is “no agendas.”
If possible, have a coffee pot or two on hand, give it to an officer and ask them to work the room pouring coffee for people. It’s a great way to introduce a shy or less loquacious officer to the public, and the coffee pot really serves as an ice breaker to communication.
Some people will be hesitant to just sit right down with an officer; they might be sitting alone and drinking coffee while watching what is going on around them. They might be nervous or have a serious issue to discuss. Say hello and pour a cup of coffee; if they are still there a short time later, ask about a refill and if you can sit down to talk.
Hosts should be prepared to intervene when officers are being lengthily engaged in conversation with only one individual. Be prepared to come thank the person they are with and ask that officer to come with you, freeing the officer up for more conversation with more citizens.
Get the Word Out About Your Event
In all communications, please use the official Coffee with a Cop (available in Spanish) logo; provide your email address and receive resources and tools for the event by email.
Make sure you have Coffee with a Cop signage at your event, on the door, and on the tables so people that didn’t come for the event know what is going on and will chat with you. (To make things extra easy, visit http://coffeewithacop.comwithacopswag.com/home to find everything from table throws to coffee-flavored lip balm.)
Plan in advance to distribute flyers in the community, post event details and a Coffee with a Cop logo on social media outlets, submit the event to local event listings, and invite the media.
And in the End, Don’t Forget
If a problem can be solved right then and there, do it! Is there a complaint about an abandoned couch in alley? Get on the phone and get it removed.
Make sure there is follow up with citizens that identify long-term problems. Don’t just leave the event and forget about the issues that were raised by the citizens.
Do not forget the hard work of the location employees. Make sure you give them a hand and a thank you after your event is finished.
If after going through all of the tips and tricks in The Briefing Room you still find yourself in a real bind, email SUPPORT@COFFEEWITHACOP.ORG, and we’ll help you out.
Resources & tools
Coffee with a Cop has developed materials to help departments successfully host their own Coffee with a Cop event. Enter your email address to receive resources.