‘Coffee with a Cop’ even seeks to change perception of law enforcement

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Photo by Erika Fleegle

Zone 1 Commander Lavonnie Bickerstaff (right) talks with local residents during the “Coffee with a Cop” event Tuesday, June 30 at Brightwood’s Cafe on the Corner.

By Erika Fleegle

Coffee and cops seem to go hand-in-hand. For Zone 1 Commander Lavonnie Bickerstaff, coffee seemed like the perfect way to connect with the community.

On Tuesday, June 30, community members and local law enforcement members met at Brightwood’s Café on the Corner during a “Coffee with a Cop” event for a day of coffee, cookies and conversation, all in the name of improving civilian relations with police.

Since starting in Northisde after 25 years of service in a variety of specialty units, Bickerstaff was concerned about the community’s perception of local law enforcement. She found that through connecting with the community and forging stronger relationships with residents, a more personable perception could be created.

“I want to break down that concept of fear,” she said. “People don’t know every element involved in their safety. We want to make sure people know they’re safe and go above and beyond to do so.”

Visitors to the café drifted in and out between 11 a.m.-8 p.m., while many officers dropped in between shifts. A few children even dropped by, met with smiles from officers.

One officer, Sergeant David Kreuger, considers interaction with local youth one of the more rewarding parts of his job.

“It’s got to be walking the beat, talking to the kids, making sure they’re not afraid,” he said. “Just trying not to reinforce the negative stereotype.”

Kreuger, who has spent 10 years on the force, elaborated that the negative police stereotype is something he sees often.

“I’ll be out and a kid will be misbehaving and their parents will see me and say, ‘Be good or he’ll arrest you.’ That’s not what we’re about.”

According to Kreuger, the best way to connect with kids is to simply reach out to them.

“I like to talk to them if I can, give them a high-five, shoot some basketball, ask about their summer plans… Once I even challenged a kid to read a book.”

For Commander Bickerstaff, the most rewarding part of her position is the aspect of service.

“I’m just happy to help solve problems and serve everyone on the force. I’m glad I can provide the resources for them to do their job better,” she said.

Café on the Corner owner Lateresa Blackwell, who has been in the community for the past 30 years, also felt positively about the day’s event.

“The face of the community has changed,” she said. “But those who have come in here today have felt a warmth… It’s non-threatening.”

Following the success of the first Coffee with a Cop event, Bickerstaff hopes to expand the event to more places in Northside. Future events will likely take place at Arnold’s Tea Shoppe in Historic Deutschtown, the Java House in Brighton Heights and the family room of a housing community in Northview Heights.

Congresswoman Darlene Harris also attended the event.

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