One of the advantages of a small town is getting to know people.
Sure it sounds trite, but just as travel is the bane of ignorance and narrow mindedness, getting to know someone alleviates stigma and removes stereotypes.
Even in a small town though, one of the last people most folks want to have an up close and personal encounter with are the Police.
“We don’t always have the most favorable interactions on the job,” said SLO PD Lt. Bill Proll diplomatically.
The Police Lieutenant, a 30 year veteran of the local force, was hanging out at the Blackhorse Espresso & Bakery on Los Osos Valley Road the morning May 12 to launch a new program, “Coffee with a Cop.”
It’s a public outreach formula made popular in other cities and the launch in SLO seemed successful from the 9 a.m. get go. To blast one stereotype out of the water, Lt. Proll did not have doughnuts with his coffee. Cuisine and personal biography weren’t the type of questions on the minds of citizens that gathered at the table however.
Property crimes and the proper behavior of motorists and cyclists as regards each other were of prime concern.
SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon who sat in on the first half of the meet-n-greet said, that, not to diminish the victims, but she thought it was lucky that the number one crime affecting SLO residents is petty theft. As well, she termed it a compliment to the community that people feel safe leaving vehicles and doors unlocked around their neighbors.
Never-the-less, Lt. Proll came armed with flyers advising residents to lock their cars and homes, not to leave valuables in the open, park under lights and report any suspicious activity.
To be fair, residents do report a lot of suspicious activity, especially in SLO’s Downtown Creek Walk, but said Lt. Proll, “it’s not illegal to be homeless,” and no matter how many citations are written when actual illegal activity is seen – i.e. open containers, public urination, etc – the SLO PD is not about to round people up and send them to Prado Day Center, he added, “we can encourage them and tell them about services but we don’t interfere with people not breaking the law.”
Treatment of the homeless in town was something Harmon brought up in her list of priorities regarding the Police as well, but she praised SLO’s Police Chief Deanna Cantrell for launching so many public outreach initiatives, of which ‘Coffee with a Cop’ is the latest addition.
“I think the police here deserve to be shown in a positive light. Almost every day someone will come up to me and say what a great job Chief Cantrell has been doing,” said Harmon. “She’s been a wonderful addition to our community.”
In announcing the program Cantrell was quoted as saying, ““Our goal is to have the officers attend ‘Coffee with a Cop’ in their assigned neighborhood…That way, our officers will get to know the people they’re going to be interacting with, which is important in building mutual trust and understanding.”
Lt. Proll said he volunteered for the first event as the neighborhood officers for the area were off duty, but that they intend to have one in all of the 13 neighborhood districts that have assigned patrol officers. That could take awhile as they’re currently only scheduling about six per year.
Additional ‘Coffee with a Cop’ events will be announced online at slocity.org/police or through social media at facebook.com/respectslo.
-By Camas Frank