By Debbie Adams
The stated mission of the Vinton Police Department is “to improve the quality of life by preserving the peace and safety of the community through the formation of partnerships and creating positive interaction between the public and the police while continuing to serve the unique needs of the Town of Vinton.”
With that emphasis on Community Policing, the Vinton Police Department already engages with citizens in numerous outreach opportunities. The officers host National Night Out each August; they are a familiar and friendly presence in the elementary schools. They take their mobile unit to the various neighborhoods for cookouts. They escort Santa through the streets of Vinton for the annual Santa Claus Crawl. There is virtually never a special event in the town that the Vinton Police don’t attend.
Back in April 2016 the department instituted a new outreach project. Then newly appointed Vinton Chief of Police Tom Foster introduced himself to the community by hosting “Coffee with a Cop” at the recently opened Vinton Public Library.
At that meeting, the public was invited stop by for “conversation with a cop to get to know the officers in your community.” There was no agenda for the informal meeting. The idea was for the community and the police officers to meet, discuss local issues, and build relationships in a non-threatening, relaxed environment.
Often the majority of the contact law enforcement officers have with the public happens during emergencies or emotional situations-– not always the most effective times for building rapport with the community.
Now, current Chief Fabricio Drumond and the department have partnered with the Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce to renew those community engagement opportunities, starting out with “Coffee with a Cop” at the Vinton Bojangles on the morning of March 31. It was a chance to build support for the police department and for local businesses; for citizens to get to know individual officers, their faces, and their names.
The parking lot at the restaurant was full on March 31 with citizens, officers, members of the Chamber, Mayor Brad Grose, Councilman Mike Stovall, and Assistant Town Manager Cody Sexton meeting inside for coffee and conversation. Usually, a large group of regulars gathers there each morning for conversation, but many more came by that day.
“Coffee with a Cop” was “a huge success, and we appreciate everyone that came out to support our police officers,” said Jason Boothe, Chamber president. “I am looking forward to many more events like this so the community can have a laid-back venue to talk to and get to know our police officers.”
“There was a very good community presence,” said Chief Drumond. “The event was from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and people continued to come by throughout the event. At one point, it seemed as if the dining room was quite full. Some patrons who happened to be eating breakfast were unaware of the event but were pleased with the idea and happy to talk to officers.
“For me, events such as ‘Coffee with a Cop’ offer a much more personal experience where residents and officers can get to know each other, share common bonds, fortify our community goals, and talk about future events that will hopefully continue to build a strong connection with the community that we serve,” he said.
Chief Drumond, Deputy Chief Tim Lawless, and quite a few officers circulated through the crowd, introducing themselves or visiting with citizens they already knew.
Sgt. Michael Caldwell said those they spoke with didn’t express any particular concerns about law enforcement in Vinton– “we were just building relationships.”
Chamber Executive Director Angie Chewning noted that there was a lot of friendly conversation and laughter throughout the event.
The Vinton Police and the Chamber plan to continue the conversations on a monthly basis, at least through the summer. The next one, “Pizza with the Police,” is scheduled for lunchtime on April 28 at New York Pizza.
Chief Drumond says the events won’t always be scheduled at restaurants; some of the meet and greets will involve other local businesses. The police and Chamber welcome invitations from those who would like to host the upcoming events.