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Gathering allows community to socialize with police

Alicia Hommon wanted to honor both her father, a retired police chief, and two brothers who are firefighters by hosting “Coffee with a Cop” at her family business, The Laughing Place Bakery, 504 N.E. 70th St. in Gladstone.

As the event designed to strengthen ties between Gladstone Police officers and residents unfolded early last month, Hommon was caught off guard as the many officers, neighbors and business people rolled in.

“I just wanted to have it, but I didn’t know if anyone would come,” said Hommon, who waited on customers, refilled a coffee decanter and pastry trays and, with her husband, Tracy, kept an eye on Ezra, their outgoing 2-year-old. “But all these people came and I’m kind of verklempt.”

Among the guests were Colleen Lainhart and Meghaan Binkley-Hopper, who work next door at Northeast Missouri State University’s Innovation Campus center.

“We thought we should introduce ourselves so you’ll know who we are in case we call,” Lainhart said to Officer Beth Clark, who works in community policing and organizes the “Coffee with a Cop” get-togethers.

“Coffee with a Cop” is a national program started in Hawthorne, California in 2011. There are now events in all 50 states.

Although Gladstone’s program is only a year old, several previous coffees, as well as an ice cream social and “Pies with Police” night, have been held and brought results, Clark said.

Gladstone Police Department’s community-policing division is working with Antioch Middle School and a local merchant to arrange a get-together with eighth-graders.

Clark said the idea is to meet with eighth-grade students in May before they break for the summer and face the risks of time away from school.

Clark said that “Chill with a Cop” is a variation of the department’s community coffees, which are designed to allow officers and students to get to know each other informally, rather than in a typical enforcement situation.

“The one (Coffee with a Cop) we had at Headrush (Gladstone coffee house Headrush Roasters) was right after the Dallas (police) shootings and there was a lot of support for us as police,” said Clark. But there have also been concrete requests – and action.

“One woman requested that we put our crime stats on our website and Sgt. (Bill) Briery worked with our crime analyst to get them online,” she said. Briery is Clark’s supervisor.

Getting to know residents in a casual atmosphere is a refreshing change from officers’ daily enforcement work, said Clark.

“A lot of time officers get to see the criminal side of things and don’t get to know the people they serve,” Clark said.

As part of its community policing, Gladstone Police assigns patrol officers to focus solely on one of the city’s four districts. That allows the different areas to get to know their officers and encourages officers to become more familiar with the residents and their concerns, said Clark.

“The officer on patrol gets some ownership of the district they work in and get to know some people,” she said.

People learn about the quarterly “Coffee with a Cop” gatherings through the city’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account, and through chamber of commerce announcements and media reports.

Judging from the Feb. 1 turnout, word has gotten out. The community has responded enthusiastically, Clark said, and people attend for many different reasons.

“We actually have businesses that are asking us if they can host our next “Coffee with a Cop,” she said. “One woman came in from Liberty and said we saw it on the news and wanted to try the new bakery.”

Coffee with a Liberty Cop

Liberty police officers welcome interested community members to come out for Coffee with Cop Thursday.

The event will be held 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at Caribou Coffee, 200 N. Missouri 291.

“It’s all about maintaining a conversation with the people,” said Cpt. Andy Hedrick with the Liberty Police Department.

“The purpose behind these is to get our patrol officers in contact with the people we serve. These are the officers that respond on calls on a daily basis and serve the public every day. It’s really an opportunity for the public to meet with them.”

Regular coffee will be free.

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