MANCHESTER — Members of the Manchester Police Community Policing Unit were out in force Thursday morning at McDonald’s at 196 S. Willow St. They were on a mission — to introduce themselves and chat with patrons — and to offer a free cup of coffee. It was billed as Coffee with a Cop. While seeing a black and white squad car parked outside might have scared off some people, store owner Michael Gambino said it was hard to tell. “It was busy,” he said, with regulars and people who came to the store specifically for the Coffee with a Cop session, which was from 9 to 11 a.m.
“It’s nice to see how much people enjoy sitting and talking (with police),” Gambino said.
Gambino, who said he was interested in working with the police and the community, offered to host the session and provided the free cup of coffee. He owns two other Manchester McDonald’s and said he’d be interested in hosting future sessions at those restaurants.
“I think it’s going to be a good idea,” said Yvonne Lafreniere, who stopped in with her 8-year-old granddaughter, Jaselyn, for a food break before back-to-school shopping.
She said she had no issues she needed to discuss, but that it was a more comfortable setting than going up to an officer on the street, or having an officer stop her to chat.
If a police officer were to stop someone randomly on the street she said, for many people the reaction might be: “Oh, no. What did I do?” Having a cup of coffee seems like a good way to interact, she said. “I felt comfortable,” she said.
Jaselyn was enthusiastic about the idea, in part because she scored stickers for the new backpack she expected to get for school. She and her grandmother also received information handouts.
While Lafreniere is not a regular customer, Joe Parillo is. A widower, he lives nearby and comes for coffee every day. He was surprised to see the police, but was happy to chat with community policing supervisor Sgt. Brian O’Keefe. Most of the time when you encounter a police officer, he said, “they don’t have time to talk. . .It’s good for the police to socialize.”
Parillo said his primary concern is the speed people drive on his short street — nearby Spring Garden Street. “People go down the street at 60 miles an hour,” he said.
Officer Chris Day is the person behind Coffee with a Cop in Manchester, having learned about it at a New England-wide training session in Waterville Valley in March. The vision of an opportunity to talk with community members in a non-stress, non-confrontational setting was the idea of police in Hawthorne, Calif., a few years ago.
Day said the federal justice department was impressed by how it worked in Hawthorne and pay for a captain and a sergeant to travel the country spreading the word about the value of the sessions, at which no topic is off limits.
Day said sometimes it can be intimidating to go to the police department to talk about a problem. Having a police car parked in front of the house can make the neighbors curious, or nervous. Day said this is a way to meet with community members in a neutral setting and an opportunity to establish lines of communication. “This is a draw for a range of people,” he said. He said he hopes to get more advance notice out about future Coffee with a Cop sessions.
Day said the department intends to have sessions in various places around the city, although dates and places haven’t been firmed up yet.