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Guest essay: Coffee (and maybe churros) with a cop can make a difference

Thursday, November 18th, was cold, fresh and sunny. What better way to start the day than sharing a cup of coffee with one of Evanston’s best?

Eric Young, owner of La Principal, the deliciously creative Mexican restaurant in southeast Evanston, opened its doors from 8:00 am to 10:00 am to host the casual, friendly, and hospitable gathering sponsored by the Main-Dempster Mile community association. After nearly two years of pandemic lockdown, it was a welcome revival of a long-standing program.

The November 18th Coffee with a Cop event will be attended by (from left) Kristin Andrews, Officer Brian Rust, Officer Mike Jones and Maggie Bell, photographed in front of La Principal at 700 Main Street. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

The group was gathered in the bar area, which Young had generously stocked with steaming coffee and plates of fresh, sugary churros. Several officers were chatting to 10 to 15 civilians at the same time, a scenario that repeated throughout the morning as neighbors, passers-by, and shopkeepers came by, introduced and talked to officers, sipped their strong coffee, and stood up Made the way wherever they needed to be next.

The station officer who includes La Principal and this section of Evanston is Mike Jones, who seemed to know everyone who came over to say hello. He is sociable, personable with a big smile and helped make the event feel like a low-key party, albeit without alcohol and where the celebrity guests carried guns.

I spoke to Officer Brian Rust, Commander Ryan Glew, and Patrol Officer Thomas Curtin about their work here in Evanston and the Coffee with a Cop program. These three people combined have over 60 years of law enforcement experience, all based in Evanston. Their roles vary, but regardless of where they typically patrol or work, the Coffee with a Cop program reinforces their training to become police officers.

Coffee with a Cop is a national program and was introduced to Evanston several years ago at the suggestion of the Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association. In a typical non-pandemic year, the Community Policing Unit will hold up to six events across the city and endeavor to visit different districts for each. Any company can host one; some events took place in banks, office buildings and specialty shops.

Officials found that morning is the best time as it allows people to stop by on their way to work after parents have taken their children to school or on their way to other activities. After a hiatus forced by a pandemic, Coffee with a Cop resumed at Ovo Frito last August.

Is it a good use of our officials’ time to mingle with parishioners over coffee? The Evanston Police Department thinks it’s important to get out there and be with the people you serve and protect. The police believe it is important that the people who live and work in the neighborhoods recognize and know their local officials.

The informal forum allows ordinary citizens to speak to officials without the stress or tension of a situation required by an 911 call. When you know the people in and around your neighborhood, you break the barriers created by anonymity and impersonal transactions. Mutual recognition can lead to trust, respect, and friendship over time. It promotes helping and problem solving. It can and has led to inspiration and mentoring.

Coffee with a cop doesn’t solve every problem. There are many issues that have yet to be addressed. But it’s a step in making things better here at home.

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