Police chat with residents at coffee shop in new outreach initiative

IOANNIS PASHAKIS/ Sun-Gazette Agent Aaron Levan, officer Chris Salisbury and Captain Jody Miller speak with city local Bob Burk about what the police force could do better at the first of many "Coffee with a Cop" meetings.

No one called 9-1-1.

There was no yellow tape wrapped around a parking lot, keeping spectators and media back. No command post had been set up.

Still, inside the business, a young uniformed city police officer along with a patrol supervisor and two agents mingled inside an establishment Friday morning for nearlyan hour, talking with people.

This was not a crime scene.

This was a relaxed, informal meet-and-greet that allowed many customers at Dunkin Donuts at West Fourth and Arch streets to get to know some officers on a more personal level.

“We had conversations in here today with people about cars, where people are from. They got to see us on a different level, a different situation. It was nice that they could see us as regular people like everyone else,” Agent Aaron Levan said.

He, along with Agent Fred Miller, Patrol Division Capt. Jody Miller and two-year police veteran Patrolman Chris Salisbury participated in a new community-outreach program called “Coffee with a Cop.”

The group — as a whole, in pairs or individually — introduced themselves to customers, some gathered with friends at tables while others were sitting alone as they enjoyed their breakfast.

“This was a good idea, for them to just come out and visit people,” Bob Burk, a city resident, who chatted with the officers with his friend, retiree Ray Sciacca.

“When I was a kid, officers walked the beat. You got to know them. However they don’t do that anymore. I think it’s important to spend a little time with them, to say, ‘Hi, hello,’ get to know the officers,” Sciacca said.

He applauded the idea of officers getting out to meet residents in an informal setting such as this.

“Police have a tough job, that’s all there is to it,” Burk, his friend, said. “They’re doing the best they can,” he added.

Sciacca said it clearly is “dangerous to be a cop … real dangerous. Back in my younger days, you might of gotten into fistfights, but we weren’t thinking of killing anyone.”

The violence of the job, the violence in the city also was on the mind of Williamsport native Suzanne Smith, who spent a few minutes talking with the officers while inside the business.

“Williamsport has gotten insane from the way it used to be,” she said.

“When I was a kid, you could walk all over town without any fear. Today, kids can’t do that. That’s a concern of mine. I told the officers to be safe. I told them we appreciate what they’re doing, but we don’t want them dying doing it. Too many officers have died already,”

Smith said.

Some customers shared with the officers their frustration with what they said was the endless fireworks activity this year in their neighborhoods. The very loud, continuous booms has rattled theirs, as well as their dogs’ nerves.

“The fireworks scare the daylights out of my dog, Noodles,” a city resident, who did not want her name printed, said.

“They have been setting off fireworks for the last three weeks. Big, loud ones. There needs to be something in place to stop them from setting off fireworks weeks before July 4. It has just been going on and on,” the woman added.

Police said City Council’s Public Safety Committee is reviewing the matter.

Both the officers as well as the customers were very upbeat about how the first “Coffee with a Cop” event went.

“Most often when we’re interacting with people, it’s at their worst time. They are having a struggle or conflict,” Levan, the city detective, said. “We rarely get a chance like this to have a personal relationship or personal interaction with them because we have a job to do.”

“They need to do this more often,” Sciacca, the customer, said.

Police are holding seven more “Coffee with a Cop” events until the end of August. These gatherings will allow the public to meet some of the new hires on the department as well as some veteran officers. The next one is scheduled at Starbucks, 154 Academy St., next Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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