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Recent cases such as Deidra Reid and Victoria King have caused the relationship between communities and their police officers to be tested.

More than 20 events were held across Central Florida on Saturday, Jan. 9 to start repairing those relationships. The event, known as Coffee with a Cop, started in California in 2011. It has now expanded to four continents and more than 2,000 communities. Coffee with a Cop’s website states that its mission is “to improve trust and build relationships — one cup of coffee at a time.”

In the McDonald’s on the corner of Colonial Drive and Goldenrod Road, that’s exactly the message that came across. On Saturday, more than a dozen people gathered at the local restaurant with free coffee in hand to get answers to some of their pressing questions.

Lt. Jamie Sykes of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said that this event is a great opportunity to bring the community together with law enforcement.

“They can ask the questions [about] why we do the things we do; they can give us the concerns they have for their individual neighborhoods,” he said. “ [It] gives [citizens] a better understanding of what we do and what’s actually important to them.”

Dana Basich, the organizer of the event and owner of the McDonald’s, said that events like this are important to make citizens feel comfortable calling the police.

“The bottom line in that is that [the police] have always been helpful, always been supportive of me, my business, my people, and it’s our chance to give back a little bit,” he said. “The officer that came in this morning, Richard, he introduced himself and said ‘Ever need anything, I’m always available,’ and that made me comfortable. Communication is so important between law enforcement and normal, everyday people and [here] we get to see them, view them, deal with them as individuals.”

Deputy 1st Class Richard Conner of OCSO said that events like this are important so police can communicate with the public on a personal level. It allows citizens to see police officers as normal people, rather than the usual tough, intimidating officer; citizens who see cops in a more positive light are more likely to report crimes. He said that neighborhoods with little crime tend to have close-knit neighborhood watches that look out for each other and report suspicious activity.

“There are way more of the public than there are of us, and we can’t be everywhere — it’s just not possible. The more people that are watching out for things and letting us know, then we can come investigate it and see if it’s legit or a crime ... the neighborhood watches [are] a prime example,” he said. “I’ve got neighborhoods where there’s little crime because those communities are together; they know each other and they take care of each other. Then I’ve got neighborhoods who don’t have that and they don’t even know their own neighbors and so it makes it very difficult.”

Courtney Gilmartin, spokeswoman for UCFPD, said that though she’s familiar with Coffee with a Cop, it’s not something that UCFPD currently does. However, that doesn’t mean UCFPD isn’t trying to create a dialogue with the community.

“We do hundreds of other community relations events each year in addition to the day-to-day interactions officers have with folks on campus,” Gilmartin said. “For example, in 2015, UCFPD Community Relations officers presented at 101 student orientations, taught 29 women’s self-defense classes, gave 14 security talks to organizations and residence halls, provided 13 tours of UCFPD and the list goes on and on.”

OSCO Deputy John Johnson said he hopes events like this have a positive effect on the officers and the citizens, leading to a decrease in crime.

“Obviously, [a citizen] is concerned just as much as we’re concerned about what’s going on with the crime trends,” he said. “I think at this point it’s important that we can talk and have this dialogue because what a lot of people might not realize is that the citizens in their own neighborhoods are the first line of defense that can help us, as they live there.”

Personal Safety Tips:

  • Always make sure your vehicle is locked.
  • Don’t leave any valuables in your car.
  • Call the police if you see something that looks suspicious.

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Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at AlissaS@centralfloridafuture.com.

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