Connecting Police and Community One Cup at a Time
Coffee, cops, community and communication. These four components form the foundation of Coffee With a Cop, one of the most successful community-oriented policing programs in the world, with participation from law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, Africa, India, Latin America and more. The program helps break down barriers between peace officers and the communities they serve, with the goal of building trust, providing everyone with a voice, enhancing cultural awareness and strengthening understanding. In honor of National Coffee With a Cop Day — which returns this year on October 5 after a two-year postponement caused by the pandemic — we take a look back on this groundbreaking initiative, which launched in California 11 years ago.
In 2011, the Hawthorne Police Department was experimenting with ways to better engage with residents in the city. Then-Chief Robert Fager enlisted the help of the newly created Community Affairs Unit, which included Sergeant Chris Cognac, Motor Officer John Dixon and Captain Keith Kauffman, to think of an innovative concept to connect cops and community members. They came up with Coffee With a Cop and hosted the first-ever gathering at a local McDonald’s. The event focused on building relationships — there were no speeches, no agenda, just casual conversations over cups of coffee in a comfortable atmosphere. The event proved to be a success.
Cognac shared his experience in an article for the DOJ’s COPS Office Community Policing Dispatch e-newsletter. The article attracted attention from agencies across the country that were intrigued by the idea and wanted to develop their own Coffee With a Cop program. Cognac was also contacted by a representative from the University of Illinois’ Center for Public Safety and Justice about pursuing a COPS Office grant to expand and develop a curriculum for the program.
The grant was awarded to the Hawthorne P.D. and the University of Illinois in 2012, and in 2013, a national Coffee With a Cop training program was established through a partnership between the department and the university. The first Coffee With a Cop training course was held in Gulf Shores, Alabama, that same year.
“Initially, there was heavy resistance from officers because ‘they already drank coffee’ and ‘what were we going to teach them?’” Cognac recalls. “Once we developed the program guidelines and best practices (no agenda, no speeches, etc.), people came to see how effective Coffee With a Cop events were as a community-building tool.”
The program gradually took the law enforcement community by storm. Coffee With a Cop’s first international event took place in Montreal, Canada, in 2014, and the program reached all 50 states in 2016, when the Honolulu P.D. held its first event.
“It is very humbling to see the program grow across the country and worldwide,” Cognac remarks. “We were really just hoping to get the 50 states involved, but other countries like Canada, Australia and as far as India and Congo hold events now. It’s a success beyond our wildest dreams.”
In 2016, the COPS Office established National Coffee With a Cop Day, encouraging every law enforcement agency in the country to host Coffee With a Cop events on the same day during National Community Policing Week in October. Today, agencies hold Coffee With a Cop events year-round as well as on National Coffee With a Cop Day, which is held annually on the first Wednesday of October.
The nonprofit organization Coffee With a Cop, Inc., was established in 2018. Its mission is to further the success of the program, organize National Coffee With a Cop Day and provide free Coffee With a Cop and community policing training workshops worldwide. Cognac, Dixon and Kauffman, all now retired, help run the organization with fellow active and retired Hawthorne P.D. officers.
“I think Coffee With a Cop is the most efficient way to establish relationships with citizens,” Cognac says. “It really helps to form the building blocks of community policing. I know of many local programs that started with officers meeting citizens at Coffee With a Cop events and forming partnerships with businesses and organizations they have met.”
Cognac, who also serves as the primary instructor for community policing classes taught by the organization, adds that facilitating programs that encourage meaningful, long-term police–community partnerships are vital in this day and age.
“It’s more important than ever for police to build trust in the community and also give community members a voice in things involving community,” he says. “It also serves to humanize officers and break down barriers. It serves to help both officers and citizens establish common bonds and recognize that we are all in this together.”
For more information about Coffee With a Cop, visit coffeewithacop.com. Agencies participating in National Coffee With a Cop Day are encouraged to share their photos on social media with #coffeewithacopday2022 and #coffeewithacop.
Cognac, Chris. “Community Engagement Through Coffee With a Cop.” Police Chief Magazine, IACP, tinyurl.com/4xvyhfht.
Parham, Wayne. “Coffee With a Cop: Simple Idea Creates ‘A Bridge to Communication.’” Police Magazine, 6 September 2022, tinyurl.com/2p9cuspp.