WATERVILLE VALLEY — This tiny town nestled in the White Mountains is in the vanguard of a new community-policing tool that is sweeping the nation and is premised on the simple idea of “building partnerships one cup of coffee at a time.”
About three years ago, the Hawthorne, Calif., police department began working on its communication skills, recognizing that, in the overwhelming majority of situations, the exchanges between its officers and citizens occurred during emergencies when stress levels were high and the opportunities for pleasantries and less-urgent communication were low.
The police department hit upon “Coffee with a Cop,” inviting the public to have a free cup of coffee with officers at a neutral location, the first time at a McDonald’s restaurant in a large, busy neighborhood.
The initiative was so successful that it was written about in a law-enforcement journal, where Waterville Valley Police Chief David Noyes read about it and immediately thought it would work well here.
“This is easy, we can do this,” Noyes said he remembered thinking, struck both by the humor — “it sounds kind of crazy,” he conceded — but more importantly by the potential of what “Coffee with a Cop” could do to improve the relationship between his agency and the public.
Noyes’ department is unique in New Hampshire because it is a “public safety” department whose six full-time and five part-time employees are trained and certified as police officers, firefighters and emergency-medical responders.
Now poised to hold its fourth “Coffee with a Cop” on Wednesday from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the base lodge at the Waterville Valley Ski Resort, Noyes is an avowed believer.
Waterville Valley was among the first New Hampshire police departments to hold “Coffee with a Cop,” Noyes said, adding that its success was noticed by the program’s founders at the Hawthorne Police Department, who contacted him last fall and asked Waterville Valley to hold a New England-wide forum.
That forum — which prompted another comic observation by Noyes — “Why do you need to train cops how to drink coffee?” — took place in November at the Silver Fox Inn and drew some 60 officers from around the region who learned that it’s not just about the coffee, it’s also about the conversation.
Now funded by a Department of Justice grant, “Coffee with a Cop” is active in more than 175 cities and towns in 36 states and growing. In the Granite State, Noyes said among the participating agencies are the Farmington and Lincoln police departments.
“There are really few opportunities to interface with the public,” said Noyes, adding that “Coffee with a Cop” events in Waterville Valley have been very well attended by both the public and members of the various law-enforcement agencies who work in the same geographical area — like county sheriffs and federal officers — but who otherwise might not have the chance to get to know each other.
During the sessions, there are no limits on the attendees’ conversation.
“Anything, you name it, they can talk about it,” said Noyes, adding it is held in a friendly, non-threatening environment.
“The coffee’s on us,” the chief said, and if someone would like to bring a child to a gathering, hot chocolate can also be provided.
“Coffee with a Cop” has gone down very smoothly in Waterville Valley, “it really has,” said Noyes. “I’m very pleased with how well it’s been received.”