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Community members and police meet over coffee in Springfield IL

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For the Springfield Police Department, building trust begins with community engagement.

Community members and police were able to meet on a Thursday morning at the department’s “Coffee with a Cop” event at Starbucks on Dirksen Parkway.

Neighborhood Police Officer Taylor Sullivan, who organized the event, hoped the informal atmosphere would allow people to discuss their concerns with police on a personal level.

She said talking face-to-face with community members can help with understanding and believes consistent community interaction will help bridge the gap.

“People love going out in a relaxed setting and being able to talk to the officers who work in their neighborhood. With everything that’s happened in the past, one of our big goals is to bring everyone together, so hopefully events like this show some positive progress,” Sullivan said.

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“Coffee with a Cop” is a nationwide community-based policing program designed to break down communication barriers through one-on-one interaction. According to Police Chief magazine, events are held to provide “faces” to officers and help community members connect with officers without distraction.

Michelle Lee, the manager of the North End Starbucks, said she enjoys meeting new officers and reuniting with officers she has seen in her neighborhood. She said she was happy to partner with the SPD and that the event was a step in the right direction to build community confidence.

Springfield Police Detective Tim Zajicek, Officer Andy Barnes and Officer Chris Jones (rear left to right) have coffee and chat with residents Thursday at Starbucks on Dirksen Parkway. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

“Times are different now, and a lot of bad things have happened, so I think anything that can be good for the community is good for the city and the department,” Lee said. “They’re so open to listen to our concerns and connect, so I think it’s a really good event.

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Police officers made presentations during the event and people asked questions while enjoying a free cup of coffee. The neighborhood police sergeant. Matt Doss, Springfield Deputy Chief Andrew Dodd and State Rep. Sandy Hamilton, R-Springfield, were among those who attended the event.

Sullivan said when the pandemic started, the department had fewer opportunities to host community events, but he was excited to host Coffee with a Cop again since COVID restrictions eased. She said she plans to hold more events for the department and hopes the community will continue to attend.

“I know it’s like why would I want to go to Starbucks and talk to a cop? But I’m here every week and I want more people to know how to contact us in a different way than calling 911 in emergency,” Sullivan said. “Here we give out our business cards, our emails, and tell people how to connect with us, so hopefully that gets bigger and people use the networks social media to see when these events occur.”

Coffee with a Cop usually takes place from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and event locations vary. Future Springfield Police Department community engagement event announcements are available on the department’s website and Facebook page.

Springfield Police Officer Taylor Sullivan, left, talks to Becca Hurley of Auburn at the Starbucks on Dirksen Parkway Thursday morning.  Police encountered residents during a "Coffee with a cop" Event. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]