The University of Oregon Police Department holds a “Coffee with a Cop” event sponsored by Starbucks in the EMU once a month. The event is designed to give students a chance to talk with UOPD officers one on one and answer any questions or concerns they may have about police on campus.
Geri Brooks, a UOPD officer, helped implement the nationwide program right here at UO.
Officer Brooks said that the best part of the event was getting to talk to students and have a real conversation with them in a comfortable environment.
“When people call us, it’s usually because there’s a problem. The only time students ever really interact with us is when something bad happens and they’re stressed out,” she said.
Officer Brooks then went on to say that while she wouldn’t describe the UOPD officers as “jaded,” they could fall into a pattern while doing their job and become robotic at times. This can make students who are in the middle of a crisis feel like they don’t really care.
“This event is a great way for students to have a real conversation with us and see that we’re human too, and that we really do care.”
Not everyone is as optimistic when it comes to the “Coffee with a Cop” event as Officer Brooks. Patrick Schranck, a Co-chair for the UO Young Democratic Socialists, saw the event differently.
“I very much see this whole “Coffee with a Cop” thing as a means to sanitize their image in the face of not just a national conversation about racism in policing and the criminal justice system, but also efforts here on campus to disarm them with the “Disarm UOPD” movement,” he said.
William Christensen, the treasurer for the University of Oregon College Republicans, disagrees.
“I don’t think it’s just a stunt, I think most police are really a lot like us,” Christensen said. “Most officers prefer to be liked by those they protect, and this event shows me they’re willing to reciprocate that by opening themselves up to others.”
While Schranck admitted to not having extensive knowledge of UOPD specifically, he said that the policing and criminal justice system at large is a fundamentally racist institution. He continued by saying that police actively work to maintain a harmful status quo that hurts people of color, the working class and the LGBTQ+ community.
“Events such as this are pretty much a waste of time. It’s ultimately completely ineffective to try to substantively engage with a system and its representatives that are corrupted and oppressive to their very root,” Schranck said. “Compromise and understanding really aren’t possible in events like this. It’s PR and image boosting and nothing else.”
Christensen saw the event in a different light.
“I think “Coffee with a Cop” is a great way to bridge that gap between those who may have had bad experiences with officers from other places in the country, or even around the world,” Christensen said. “Students can have a more personal, very low-stakes interaction with police that will show most students that police are a lot like everyday people like you and I. Events like this can really bring a community together.”
Officer Brooks agreed that it was a great way to bridge that divide, and talked about one student who had only ever had bad encounters with the police. While she admitted that all of those experiences probably weren’t negated with one conversation, she did think that that conversation may be a stepping stone to repair the relationship in the future.
Regardless of political beliefs, conversations are almost always a good way to learn about something and show the other side a new perspective. If you’re interested in “Coffee with a Cop,” stop by the EMU Starbucks to have a conversation (or maybe an argument) with a UOPD officer and worst-case scenario, there’s still free coffee.