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'It was cathartic for them': Coffee with a Cop a chance to build relationships

The initiative was launched in Hawthorne, California, in 2011, because local officers were looking for a way to interact with the people in their community

Several Island RCMP detachments are embracing an initiative meant to build relationships between ­residents and police.

Sooke RCMP is hosting a Coffee with a Cop event Feb. 7 at Cafe Vosino to give residents a chance to ask questions, share concerns and get to know officers.

The initiative was launched in Hawthorne, ­California, in 2011, because local officers were looking for a way to interact with the people in their community, according to the Coffee with a Cop website.

Staff Sgt. Greg Willcocks, who transferred to Sooke RCMP in July, is organizing the event to show the ­community that officers are human and to let them know the detachment wants to hear their feedback.

It allows people to bring their concerns and ­questions to police in an informal setting, he said. ­Willcocks said he was motivated to put on the event in part so he could get to know his new community.

Oceanside RCMP also hosted an event in November, after being approached by McDonald’s in Parksville to organize Coffee with a Cop. About 50 people showed up to meet four officers, said Shane Worth, media relations officer for the detachment.

People took the opportunity to let officers know about issues that concerned them and get to know the officers, he said.

Nanaimo RCMP hosted a Coffee with a Cop event in August that about 50 to 75 residents and 10 officers attended, said Reserve Const. Gary O’Brien.

Residents could ask the officers anything they wanted, share concerns and get to know the people behind the badges, he said.

Some of the most common questions asked were personal, about where the officers were from and why they decided to join the police, he said. Others wanted to know what the officers thought about the toxic-drug crisis or what they were doing to address mental-health challenges in the city.

Some came wanting to report crimes and were unsure how to do so, O’Brien said. Officers took their information to generate a file or pointed them to the non-emergency police line.

He said he had a lengthy discussion with one person about how best to cope with a neighbour struggling with mental-health issues.

“People were venting. It was cathartic for them,” he said.

O’Brien said the relationship between the community and officers was strained in 2020 after outrage over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and police agencies everywhere, even a country away, had to work hard to regain trust.

Nanaimo officers were being catcalled while out on patrol, O’Brien said.

“It was not a good time to be a police officer,” he said, adding the animosity has cooled in the years since.

Events like Coffee with a Cop are meant to help repair the relationship between the community and law enforcement, he said.

“This is exactly why we do it. To show them we’re humans. We laugh, we bleed, we cry,” he said.

O’Brien wants residents to know they’re encouraged to call Nanaimo RCMP’s community policing section with questions or concerns at 250-755-4469.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com