The Albany Police Department has been working to improve community relations with several initiatives in recent years. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas attended "Coffee With A Cop," held this morning outside police headquarters in Arbor Hill.
Law enforcement traditionally has embraced the element of surprise, and the "pop-up" event creates "buzz" giving officers an opportunity to connect with citizens in every and any corner of the city on relatively short notice. Barbecues, family movie nights, police and fire recruitment efforts, impromptu soccer or basketball games, and Friday: coffee with a cop.
Albany police spokesperson Steve Smith says the cookouts have been a big hit... "They're a surprise barbecue that we post the day before an event where members of the Albany Police Department will cook hamburgers, hotdogs for members of the community. We'll show a movie, a kid-friendly movie on a large inflatable screen that we have, and the officers can engage our youth by playing soccer and games. Sometimes we've had some games like kickball and things like that, so it's just a really good opportunity to bring people together and build those meaningful relationships."
Several Albany police units, including the Emergency Services Team, Mounted Unit, Forensics Unit, Traffic Safety and more displayed equipment with officers available to answer questions. Acting Police Chief Robert Sears: "'Coffee with a Cop,' the program started in Hawthorne, California a few years back and grew on so much that they decided to kind of push it out nationally, so we try to be, you know, take advantage of that and use that momentum that was built, and it's basically just like a lot of the things that we've been doing is just getting together with the community, having them stop in and have a cup of coffee, donut, and just have a conversation and talk about whatever people wanna talk about in a less stressful situation, a situation where we can talk about sports, community events..."
Earlier this year on the occasion of the city police academy’s holding its first graduation ceremony, Mayor Kathy Sheehan lauded the community policing model. "To see the transformation of the department and the way that we engage with our community, this was a decision to start our own police academy that really grew out of a commitment to 21st Century policing strategies, a commitment to ensuring that we have a strong relationship and a sense of trust between the community and our police department."
Smith says the pop-ups are in line with that philosophy. "We cannot do this job alone. We need the community to work with us. Especially when incidents happen in the city, we need everybody to work together. It's events like Coffee with the Cops that allows those things to happen."
Chief Sears adds Friday’s event doubled as a recruitment effort. "We're giving a police test December 2nd. We're doing a pretty heavy recruitment push because we'd like people to sign up for the test. The application deadline is the 24th of October. So we're really looking for a lot of folks form the community to take this test and we're really looking for a bunch of new officers that will come right from the community. If anybody knows anyone who wants to become an Albany police officer, we have websites and palm cards and applications, and we're looking for as many people to take the test as possible."
From Buckingham Pond to Arbor Hill, officials say Albany police pop-up events have been so well-received they're likely to be permanent.