The University of Connecticut Police Department (UCPD) relaxed and talked to students over coffee at the library on Wednesday as part of the community initiative “Coffee with a Cop.”
The event, which has been occurring for four years at the university, was originally started as part of an international effort in Hawthorne, California, said Lieutenant Jason Hyland.
“Several years ago, President Obama had named the first Wednesday in October as National ‘Coffee with a Cop’ Day,” Hyland said. “But today there are thousands of police departments, not only in the United States and Canada but around the world, that are holding them.”
Hyland said that the event is designed to allow students and police officers to share an open dialogue in a comfortable setting.
“It’s not often that people have a chance to have one-on-one chit-chat with a cop,” Hyland said. “It gives officers a chance to get to know members of their community, which is one of the biggest assets of the program.”
Although Wednesday was the nationally-recognized “Coffee with a Cop” event, the UConn PD hosts other events throughout each semester to strengthen their relationship with students. For instance, Hyland said there will be another event similar to “Coffee with a Cop” next Wednesday, Oct. 10, in Student Union Room 106A from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Joshua Dampf, a third-semester environmental studies major, said he believes “Coffee with a Cop” is important in mending the relationship between police officers and those they serve.
“We are quick to judge an action as an overarching characteristic of an entire sect of our society,” Dampf said. “Because of this, we deem these people as dangerous, and avoid them or target them for it.”
Dampf said police officers and citizens need to see each other on the same level.
“We need to understand each other as being different but equal, not as being different and inferior,” Dampf said.
Officer Rachael Levy, who is part of a committee that focuses on the implications of alcohol and drugs on campus for students, said UCPD is heavily involved in trying to foster a relationship with students elsewhere through programs such as Late Night, which is designed to give students a healthy and safe activity to participate in during free time on campus.
“We’re just one puzzle piece to the big puzzle of the rest of the campus,” Levy said. “There are so many people working together for this.”
UConn PD also hosts “Study Break with a Cop,” which is held at the beginning of finals week each semester in Homer Babbidge Library in the community outreach substation, in room 137 of the building, Hyland said.
“We have coffee, snacks and games,” Hyland said. “Just to give students the opportunity to destress from the busy academic rigor of finals. They can puff off some steam and then go back to the books after a while.”
Hyland said the “Coffee with a Cop” has allowed students to establish a relationship with police from a positive starting point.
“It’s been a refreshing chance to be soulful with people,” Hyland said. “If we’re out there providing a service for someone who needs our help, it’s still already a bad day. If something bad has happened to them and they need the police, it’s often not the greatest place to start that relationship.”
The event also gives the community the opportunity to see police officers from a different perspective, Hyland said.
“It’s a chance for people to meet the person behind the uniform,” Hyland said. “It’s a powerful community-building tool and helps build trust both ways.”
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.