FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Multiple law enforcement agencies filled downtown Fort Wayne Saturday morning, but not for the reason one may think. The heavy police presence was all for a program called Coffee with a Cop.
The two-hour event was packed the entire time, with hundreds of people of all ages meeting and talking to the officers.
“It’s gone beyond our wildest expectations, it’s wonderful. They’re coming out in droves to show their support. I knew this was going to be successful, but this is crazy successful,” Fort Wayne Police Department spokesperson Michael Joyner said.
The national program started several years ago in California with the idea of “building relationships one cup at a time.”
“Stepping outside the uniform and just having casual conversation with everybody,” Joyner said. “We are establishing a dialogue that is nothing but positive and a lot of good things are going to be a result of this particular event.”
Officers say the concept is simple enough.
“It’s really cops, coffee, community, and conversation,” Indiana State Police spokesperson Ron Galaviz said. “Communication and education are two of the biggest components of law enforcement that people don’t really think about until they come to an event like this and talk to us.”
That’s exactly what happened Saturday at the Barr Street Market. Officers wanted to have the first one in an open environment like downtown Fort Wayne to make people feel more comfortable.
“People will come up and talk to you who have been afraid to talk to police officers and ask questions in private or people are giving me their business cards to give them a call,” Fort Wayne Police Department Chief Garry Hamilton said.
The Fort Wayne Police Department, Indiana State Police, Allen County Sheriff’s Department and Department of Natural Resources were all on hand to answer questions about any and everything
“We’ve had questions about the new left lane law. We’ve had questions about neighborhood. There was an odor around the corner over here that somebody came and asked us about so you name it, it just kind of runs the gamut and that’s really what we wanted,” Sgt. Galaviz said. “Sometimes we don’t know what those problems are until they come to us and talk.”
Despite the negative attention toward law enforcement across the country in the last year, Saturday focused on the positive aspects of the job.
“That’s been a lot of the conversations that people have come down in support of us because of what’s taken place in Ferguson or what’s happened in Baltimore,” Joyner said.
“We’re human beings just like they are, that we’re not the boogeyman that some people portray us to be,” Sgt. Galaviz said. “At the end of the day, when people think about law enforcement, you know, we have a very difficult career. It’s not just a job, it’s a career. It’s a calling, and it’s a way of life. We’re human beings. We’re no different than you, than this person on the street, we just happen to have a different career path and a different thing that we’ve been asked and entrusted to do.”
That support could be seen and heard all over the event.
“I think they really listen and that’s what it’s all about, listening to the people of Fort Wayne, and it’s also a time to thank them for their service. You also have to look at all the positive things our police officers do for us throughout the country. We know what their job is, to protect us, to serve us, and they do a great job of that,” Jim Luepke, who attended Coffee with a Cop, said.
A major goal of the event is to create a lasting bond between the community and those who serve and protect it.
“The community is a foundation of anything, and if you don’t have a strong relationship between the police department and the community, then it’s not going to work,” Chief Hamilton said.
The police department is planning another event for June 27th at the Chick-fil-A in Jefferson Pointe on the southwest side of Fort Wayne.
“We’re really hoping to build on this throughout the summer and take this program to other parts of the city. We’re looking to find those new relationships and build those new bridges to maybe parts of the community that haven’t been sought out for or reached out to before,” Sgt. Galaviz said.