Lt. Allen Murray waited for his small dark roast coffee as he sat facing the window, constantly scanning everyone who entered and exited the shop. It is a part of his police training to always be aware his surroundings. These are the types of officers that people are used to seeing. However, Murray smiled and answered questions about police brutality shown in media and how Coffee with a Cop is helping bridge a gap between police and citizens.
Coffee with a Cop originated two years ago in the Fall of 2015 after the death of Baltimore native Freddie Gray. Gray was arrested by Baltimore Police for the possession of an illegal switchblade. It was ruled that the officers used unnecessary force, causing a spinal injury during the arrest which eventually led to Gray’s death. Communities around the country were outraged when all the officers involved in the incident were acquitted. Since then, there have been a multitude of incidents of officers being portrayed as bad guys in the media.
Allen Murray of the Hattiesburg Police Department saw an opportunity to bring the community and police together through it would not be easy. Murry presented the idea to his superior in hopes that the program would take off. Together, with Java Werks, they began to advertise the Coffee with Cops on through multiple social media outlets such as Facebook and twitter. The Hattiesburg community responded well to the program; however, Murray noticed that there had been a decrease in the number of people showing up to meet with the policemen. “I desperately wanted to keep that bridge of community and police officer alive. I didn’t want it to diminish because our next meet could have possibly been our last.”
Murray then reached out to other local coffee shops to see if they would like to be a part of the event as well. For the first time since the event began, the Hattiesburg police held the Coffee with a Cop Program at Java Works competitor, T-Bones Records and Café. The program plans to rotate different café locations every month to meet the needs of Hattiesburg residents.
Everything was open for discussion when the citizens came to sit down in the morning with Hattiesburg’s finest. “On that first meet up of Coffee with a Cop there was obvious reluctance to talk (on both sides). I knew that we had to come up to meet with citizens, only then would they feel more comfortable with us.” Murray admits that he did not expect to start a program like this when he graduated the police academy in Huntsville, Alabama. He only believed that he would be doing community policing. With the addition of the program, it has become a part of Hattiesburg policing. “If we don’t hear what the people we are protecting have to say, we aren’t doing our jobs. We are just walking out the door, pointing a gun, and arresting without a just cause. We are better than that.”
The Coffee with a Cop program is a way to meet with citizens, talk to them and get feedback on how they can make the community better together. The Hattiesburg Police has plans to continue The Coffee with a Cop Program through December 2017.