University of Oregon Police Department officers and Onyx the bomb sniffing dog greeted students with free coffee and pastries to promote trusting relationships between students and UOPD in the EMU next to Starbucks on Wednesday morning.
The event, a national initiative called Coffee with a Cop, is a chance for students to share any safety concerns or questions they have with the UO Police Department over coffee and pastries.
“Coffee with a cop is a really low key opportunity for students to get to know their police officers,” UOPD Chief of Police Matthew Carmichael said. “It’s my responsibility and our department’s responsibility to find opportunities for the police and community to engage in a non-confrontational environment.”
Carmichael said establishing trust between the officers and students creates an environment where students feel safe approaching UOPD if they need help.
“Trust is huge. It’s the number one commodity for law enforcement,” Carmichael said. “Part of that safety is students feeling safe and comfortable in reporting should something happen to them.”
Coffee with a Cop seeks to create trust between police officers and their communities, Carmichael said. Wednesday’s event wasn’t the first — UOPD hosted two other Coffee with a Cop events in October and November 2018.
Officer Geri Brooks, who organized the event, said she plans to hold a Coffee with a Cop event each month.
If students are unable to attend the event, Brooks said she encourages students to call UOPD or approach an officer when they are on campus.
Brooks said students talked with her about everything from careers in law enforcement to how to stay safe on campus.
Sophomore Megan Grey, a biology major who uses they/them pronouns, attended Wednesday’s event and said they were surprised by the conversations they had with the officers.
Grey said they spoke with the officers about the police presence at the upcoming womxn’s march this Saturday, last Friday’s shooting at Cascade Middle School and police interactions with the homeless population.
“Even though those are high stress topics, I’m glad that I talked to them because it’s good to remember that they’re also human beings.” Grey said. “Even when tragedies occur it’s not like they are this other entity separate from the population. They have a responsibility and that responsibility is actually trust.”
Grey said they felt the event was effective in engaging students in conversations with the officers, especially with the use of Onyx the dog.
Onyx’s handler, Officer Troy Phillips, demonstrated Onyx’s skills throughout the morning and several students gathered to watch.
However, Grey also said they were worried that some students who’ve had negative experiences with police officers might feel uncomfortable by the police presence in the EMU.
“I know that there are a lot of students, at least in my friend group, who have an aversion or fear or even trauma related to cops,” Grey said, “so walking in here expecting to get coffee and having a large, somewhat imposing group of cops could be really scary.”
UOPD hosted a similar event, Pizza with the Chief, in January 2017. The event was similar to Coffee with a Cop, as it allowed students to interact with the police officers. Carmichael said UOPD implemented Coffee with a Cop to reach more students in the EMU.
After Pizza with the Chief, Carmichael said UOPD received feedback to increase safety training for students and later implemented a 90-minute self defense class.
UOPD also has 12 student assistants to the UOPD Chief of Police available for students to approach with any concerns they have if they feel uncomfortable going directly to Carmichael to voice their concerns.
“There are historic and systemic challenges and issues with the culture of policing, that goes without saying. But overcoming that means us doing something together,” Carmichael said. “That’s what we’re always looking for: opportunities and ways we can work together.”