Police force pours ‘Coffee with a Cop’

pseligson@newsobserver.comMarch 14, 2014 

It’s not every day someone walks into a restaurant to see a dozen police officers handing out cups of coffee.

But on March 7, the Smithfield Police Department served its first “Coffee with a Cop” at Chick-fil-A on North Bright Leaf Boulevard. The event was a chance for people to ask police officers questions, said Sgt. Brian O’Branovich, who organized the informal event.

Often, O’Branovich said, people feel like they can’t approach officers when they’re on duty. “It’s a great way to break down barriers here in Smithfield,” he said.

The goal? “To get the community out to meet the police officers in the town we serve,” O’Branovich said.

Officers handed out 47 cups of coffee during the two-hour of the event, which the department hopes to host quarterly, O’Branovich said. The police department planned to pay for the coffee, but then Chick-fil-A donated it.

“Have you had your coffee yet this morning?” police officers would ask customers while holding out a warm cup. From there, officers would explain the point of the event, listen and answer questions.

One couple, Davidian and Angela Byrd, said “Coffee with a Cop” was great, especially because it gave them a chance to ask questions that had been on their minds. The two live in Clayton but were born and reared in Smithfield and spend a lot of time in town.

The Byrds want to see more resource officers in the schools, and they talked to Officer Thomas Lee about that. Lee explained how school resources officers work and said he would send the Byrds more information once he got back to the office.

“It’s kind of hard to have this conversation when you’re getting a speeding ticket,” Davidian Byrd said.

Lee said if people see a police officer on break, they are reluctant to approach him to ask questions. “People don’t want to bother us,” he said.

“Coffee with a Cop” is great because people know the officers are there to talk, Lee said. “Having an opportunity to have this conversation now and just talking is a great thing,” he said.

Colette Wodecker moved to Smithfield from Virginia about two months ago; she spent more than half an hour speaking with Police Chief Michael Scott.

While living in Virginia, Wodecker said, she had problems with the police after someone stole her purse. She had a chance to talk to Scott about those problems and said he was helpful and put her at ease.

Wodecker said she heard about the event from a neighbor and came out in support. “I think we all should support the police,” she said.

When Nancy Jackson walked into the restaurant and saw all of the police, her response was: “Lord have mercy.”

Jackson lives in Goldsboro and was in town for an appointment. Talking with an officer was nice, interesting and also odd, she said. “Very odd because everybody gives them a bad rap and they’re just doing their job,” she said.

Jackson said the event could be good in Goldsboro too, but “Coffee with a Cop” didn’t her change her opinion of police. “Never thought of them as bad or good,” she said. “Just doing their job.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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