Wednesday, Oct. 7, was national Coffee with a Cop Day, and town residents enjoyed a cup of their favorite brew and casual conversations with some of Johnston’s finest at Brewed Awakenings.
Established in 2011 in California, Coffee with A Cop is designed as a way for police to interact with the citizens that they serve. Considered a framework for building trust, community oriented policing programs such as these open the door for interactions outside of crisis situations that usually bring law enforcement and the public together.
Billed as a casual event without an agenda or speeches, Johnston’s well-attended, hour-long gathering provided residents with a chance to ask members of the police department questions, voice concerns, and get to know the officers that serve their neighborhoods.
“This is a great opportunity for us to meet the public, listen to their needs and interact in an informal manner,” said Johnston Police Chief Joseph Razza. “We really appreciate Dave and the staff at Brewed Awakenings for providing us with the venue, he is a huge supporter of the Johnston Police and a credit to the community.”
Dave Levesque, event host and owner of Brewed Awakenings, believed that meetings like these are important given recent regional and national events.
“Anytime that you can get the police and the local residents to communicate and talk one on one or as a group, you’ll get to air out any issues or problems and that builds relationships,” said Levesque. “I think that’s the main thing, to build a relationship with the community and the local businesses, and these guys are so great at doing that. To me, that’s the most important part.”
Levesque said his policy in each of the five communities he does business in is to provide police with any assistance he can at any time. Not only did Levesque host the event, he also used the chance to discuss concerns of his own.
“I don’t have a lot of concerns, but one thing that bothers me is the panhandling that occurs when you come off the highways,” he said. “To me, that’s a problem. But I’m pretty satisfied with the way this community is run and how it’s policed, with minimal crime and minimal issues. These guys are really involved, you see them, you hear them, they talk to people and you get to know them one on one.”
Other town residents, such as Armando Biscegalia, the owner of Bacco Vino & Contorni in Providence, and Elise Carlson, president of the Johnston Historical Society, saw the event publicized on Facebook and used the opportunity to have their concerns addressed.
“I think this was a good opportunity for people to just get to know a policeman,” said Carlson. “I was concerned about the speeding on Hartford Avenue, people are going about 65, and the school light in front of Trinity Academy that’s always on.”
The family friendly event also saw one of the town’s youngest residents come out for his chance to meet the police. Four-year-old Wyatt Desanto spoke with Deputy Chief Mark Viera and told him that his uncle was a police officer, and that he liked juice instead of coffee.
The coffee hour also presented a chance to thank the Johnston Police Department for their service. Becky DiStefano, vice president and co-founder of the Rhode Island non-profit Blue Love, gave the officers gift bags, thin blue line flags, and words of encouragement. Her organization’s mission is to focus on mental health awareness and to provide law enforcement officers with resources to overcome barriers and stigma associated with mental health injuries.
“We felt the need to show a lot of support to you guys with everything that’s been going on this year,” DiStefano told the officers. “We felt it was really a necessity and our duty as civilians and as a community to support the people who keep us safe."