Nearly five years ago, local law enforcement decided to set up a program that allowed the public an opportunity to interact with them on a regular basis about random topics of interest.
The first ‘Coffee With a Cop’ program was held on Nov. 30, 2016 at Kissner’s Restaurant in Defiance, and this and subsequent sessions went well enough to continue, though it was paused last year due to the coronavirus situation.
But it resumed in June on a monthly basis with the latest event held during the Defiance County Fair last month in Hicksville.
The next session is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30 at Defiance’s AAA office, 1007 N. Clinton St.
The program began shortly after Defiance County Sheriff Doug Engel was elected in 2016. He and Defiance Police Chief Todd Shafer had a similar vision and teamed to get it going.
“It was both of our ideas,” said Shafer. “We had the same feeling when this started and we thought it would be a great way to strengthen relationships with the community and law enforcement, and also to build the unity between law enforcement in Defiance County. ... The relationships we’ve built with other agencies has been phenomenal.”
“Todd and I talked about it when I got elected (in November 2016) and we started doing it,” explained Engel. “It was just an outreach to the public.”
Shafer and Engel are often joined by representatives from the Ohio Highway Patrol, Hicksville Police Department and the Defiance Fire Department at the monthly events.
Representatives of the various departments will attend in cases where the top official can’t be on hand, Engel indicated.
But, according to Shafer, the event has become much more than that as other public officials — such as the Defiance mayor, administrator or a health department representative — may show up to address the public as well.
“It’s ‘Coffee With a Cop,’ but it’s so much more than that,” said Shafer.
The public is invited to ask about all aspects of first responder work during the sessions which may last an hour or more.
“We hear about citizens’ concerns — everything from kids being disruptive in certain locations to traffic issues,” said Engel. “We receive more questions about why we do what we do.”
And support is often expressed for law enforcement, according to Engel.
“Oh absolutely,” he said. “They voice their support, but also their concerns.”
While law enforcement agencies in larger communities have received much scrutiny in recent years, Shafer said “I can confidently say during this time our community has been there for us. It’s been evident with the outpouring of cards we’ve gotten from the community that we’ve always been willing to jump out and help the community in any way possible.”
Participation levels among the public vary, as do the locations where each monthly session is held and the day of the week.
“When we first started it, we were meeting on Saturdays,” recalled Engel. “That drew great crowds. Now, we have anywhere from 15 to 20 people. It all depends on the day.
Shafer also noted that “we have our regulars that come to every one.”
As far as continuing the program in the future, Engel said, “I think they’ll continue as long as people want to come and talk to us.” And Shafer encourages more to attend.
“I just think it’s great to get to sit down and talk,” he said.