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Editorial: Getting to know them, getting them to know us

People came to the first downtown Coffee with a Cop last month for socializing, casual questions and sharing of roasted beverages. Free black coffee will again be offered at this Saturday’s Coffee with a Cop at Yo-Joe’s.

The second installment of Coffee With a Cop is this Saturday morning, Aug. 17, at Yo-Joe’s, a relatively new shop on South Main Street serving frozen yogurt and hot coffee.

The River Falls Police Department adopted the Coffee With a Cop program earlier this summer. The first one was held last month at the Family Fresh cafe on a weekday morning.

Over about an hour’s time, the turnout was decent, with perhaps 20 or so folks dropping by for a free coffee and the chance to mingle and chat with local officers, including Ryan Miller (shown above), who first proposed the Coffee With a Cop idea to Police Chief Roger Leque.

Leque, in his 22-plus years as chief, has made it a priority to have his department work closely with local residents. One example: For years the RFPD sponsored a Citizens Police Academy. Weekly evening sessions focused on various aspects of policing — from fingerprinting and weapons to investigations and evidence gathering.

At the end of eight weeks participants attended their graduation ceremony. They were also able to give a written critique on the academy — feedback on what information presented was useful and how informative the officers were who led each class.

The Citizens Academy, like Coffee With a Cop, is another slice of community policing, of which Leque is a proponent.

Community policing, through close contact with the public, aims to: 1) Give officers a better grasp of the city’s neighborhoods and what people’s concerns and issues are and 2) Allow citizens to become more familiar and at ease with local police, meaning they’re more apt to report suspicious activities and crimes. Put these two components together and you create a safer place to live, work, recreate and play.

Leque said that at the first Coffee With a Cop, officers were informally told about speeding concerns in the East Johnson/Kennedy streets neighborhood. There were also some questions about stray animals.

“Everyone was very appreciative they had this opportunity to meet the officers,” Leque said. “Most of the time was used just getting to know one another. I think this was a very productive event.”

One woman was heard saying she thought more children should come along. If they did, they would get an up-close, friendly look at police, and that would make for a good early learning experience.

So, for those going to Yo-Joe’s this Saturday at 10 a.m. for Coffee With a Cop, you might make it a family affair by bringing your child, grandchild, or a niece or nephew — maybe do it on your way to St. Croix County Farm City Day at the university’s Mann Valley Farm just west of River Falls.

Anyway, if you miss this Saturday’s Coffee With a Cop, there will another scheduled soon for September. And more are planned after that at rotating business sites.