Coffee with a Cop brings police, citizens together

Photo by Bruce A. Scruton/New Jersey Herald - Newton Patrolman John Flanagan, left, and Sgt. Michael Monaco, right, greet citizens Thursday morning during another Coffee with Cops meet-and-greet at Hayek's Market.
By Bruce A. Scruton  New Jersey Herald
Posted: Jul. 22, 2016 12:01 am
NEWTON -- Some of them had cups in their hands, others had bottles of water; all were chatting like neighbors would normally do outside a marketplace. 

In this group on Thursday morning in front of Hayek's Market, however, several wore police uniforms, others wore "plainclothes" uniforms of polo shirts with embroidered badges. 

They shook hands, sometimes hugged and chatted away with their fellow citizens who stopped by Hayek's Market for the Newton Police Department's latest "Coffee with a Cop" session. 

Among the group were also "coaches" to explain the new Sussex County Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery (CLEAR) program. The program is designed to help people with substance abuse problems, as well as family members, get help to fight their addictions. 

The certified coaches are recovering addicts themselves with first-hand experience in recovery and the support needed. 

Police Chief Mike Richards would not say if any people sought more than information from the coaches during the two-hour meet-and-greet. 

The Coffee with a Cop sessions are designed for officers to meet the public in a non-emergency and non-confrontational setting. This was a time for relaxed conversations and relationship-building as the police and citizens get to know each other better. 

Among the uniformed officers was Russell Post, on the streets for about six weeks after graduating from police academy. 

"I always wanted to make the community better," he said when asked why he wanted to become a police officer. 

And he's coming onto the job at a time when police have become targets and community relations in many places have taken a hit. 

Asked if he was more concerned, Post said part of the academy training was aimed at officer safety, but he still has practical experience to learn. 

"The academy showed us the standard way," he said. "Now I'm learning not to be complacent, change my routine, be aware." 
Also in uniform was veteran police Sgt. Mike Monaco. 

"Ambush?" he answered. "That's a reality and not much you can do to prevent that. 

"We have ‘target' written all over our body," he said. "We're wearing it; ‘Police' on our front, ‘Police' on our back, stripes down the legs of our pants." 

But, he added, "the job hasn't changed much. To be safe, you always have to have your head on a swivel, be aware of your surroundings." 

While there is the inherent danger, he said the Newton department prides itself on its support of the community, and the community's support for the department. 

"I don't think any one of us (the country's police) comes to work looking to hurt someone. We need to be approachable," he said. 

The Coffee with a Cop program began with the police department in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2011 and now has spread to departments in every state. 

Bruce A. Scruton can also be contacted on Twitter: @brucescrutonNJH or by phone: 973-383-1224
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