Thursday, November 18 was cold, crisp and sunny. What better way to kick off the day than share a cup of coffee with one of Evanston’s finest?
Eric Young, owner of La Principal, southeast Evanston’s deliciously creative Mexican restaurant, opened its doors from 8 a.m. to 10-ish to host the casual, friendly and hospitable get-together sponsored by the Main-Dempster Mile community association. After nearly two years of pandemic lockdowns, it was a welcome revival of a program that’s been around for years.
The group was gathered in the bar area that Young had generously stocked with steaming coffee and plates of fresh, sugary churros. There were several officers chatting with 10 to 15 civilians at any one time, a scenario that replayed throughout the morning as neighbors, passersby and nearby shopkeepers would stop in, get introduced to and chat with the officers, savor the strong coffee and head off to wherever they needed to be next.
The ward officer whose beat includes La Principal and this section of Evanston is Mike Jones, who seemed to know everyone who stopped in to say hello. He is gregariously personable with a wide smile and helped make the event seem like a low-key party, albeit one without alcohol and where the celebrity guests carried guns.
I spoke with Officer Brian Rust, Commander Ryan Glew and Patrol Officer Thomas Curtin about their work in Evanston and the Coffee with a Cop program. These three individuals together have more than 60 years of law enforcement experience between them, all of it in Evanston. Their assignments vary, but regardless of where they usually patrol or work, the Coffee with a Cop program reinforces their community policing training.
Coffee with a Cop is a national program and it was introduced to Evanston a few years ago at the suggestion of the Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association. In a typical, non-pandemic year, the Community Policing Unit will hold as many as six events all over the city, making an effort to visit different wards for each. Any business can host one; some events have been at banks, office buildings and specialty shops.
Officers have found that mornings are the best time because it allows people to stop in while they are on their way to work, after parents drop their kids off to school or on the way to other activities. After a pandemic-enforced hiatus, Coffee with a Cop resumed this past August at Ovo Frito restaurant.
Is it a good use of our officers’ time to mingle with community members over coffee? The Evanston Police Department believes it’s important to get out and be with the people you serve and protect. Police believe it’s important for the people who live and work in neighborhoods to recognize and know their local officers.
The casual forum allows regular citizens to talk to officers without the stress or tension of a situation necessitated by an 911 emergency call. Knowing the people in and around your neighborhood breaks the barriers created by anonymity and impersonal transactions. Mutual recognition over time can lead to trust, respect and friendship. It fosters helping and problem-solving. It can, and has, led to inspiration and mentorship.
Coffee with a Cop won’t solve every problem. There are plenty of issues that still need to be addressed. But it is one step toward making things better right here at home.