La Habra residents, officers bond over a cup of coffee and good conversation

By Karen Robes Meeks

La Habra resident Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix was sitting at the local Corner Bakery Cafe with her 2-year-old foster child Thursday morning when a SWAT officer approached them.

The officer, dressed in tactical gear, took a moment to greet Vincent-Phoenix with a smile and play with the toddler beside her before chatting with another person nearby.

Joe Melendez, left, speaks with La Habra Police Department Patrol and SWAT Officer Nick McDermott during Coffee with a Cop at Corner Bakery in La Habra.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

Throughout the patio area of the café were members of the La Habra Police Department. They were not there to perform a traffic stop or arrest a criminal. They were having coffee with residents and business owners who attended the latest installment of Coffee with a Cop.

Held every other month, Coffee with a Cop provides a unique opportunity for community members to ask questions and learn more about the department’s work in La Habra neighborhoods, one cup of coffee at a time, said La Habra Police Lt. Brian Miller.

Attendees mingle during La Habra Police Department’s Coffee with a Cop.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

Sometimes the events take place on a weekend or weekday, in different parts of town, Lt. Miller said.

“The majority of contacts law enforcement has with the public happen during emergencies or emotional situations,” he said. “Those situations are not always the most effective times for relationship building with the community and some community members may feel that officers are unapproachable on the street. Coffee with a Cop breaks down barriers and allows for a relaxed, one-on-one interaction.”

Mariposa Martinez, left, of the La Habra Chamber of Commerce captures the moment with La Habra Police Department Lt. Brian Miller.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

The police department started the event a little over two years ago, after La Habra Police Lieutenant Mel Ruiz (now retired and a Reserve Detective) got the idea from the Hawthorne Police Department, which had been holding Coffee with a Cop events since 2011.

“They used it as an open forum for locals to talk to police officers who patrol a beat,” Ruiz said. “Sometimes people think their issues are maybe not important enough to call, but when you’re here having a cup of coffee, and chit-chatting, something might come up. Maybe it’s the neighbors or anything. That’s why it’s good to meet people.”

Attendees gather for a brief program and announcements during Coffee with a Cop with the La Habra Police Department at Corner Bakery in La Habra.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

Vincent-Phoenix said she showed up to get to know her police department better and to see if she could offer her skills as a trauma trainer for foster parents.

“I’m a foster parent with special needs, and it’s nice to have some contact with police and help them understand that there are kiddos who come from hard places that have trauma,” she said. “It’s not necessarily training that police always get, and so whatever degree I can help to foster that.”

Lt. Brian Miller, left, of the La Habra Police Department, meets Harrison Coronado, 10, of Downey.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

The events are also beneficial for the police officers, La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price said.

“This is an event where the community gets to know police officers and ask them any question they want, and it’s great for the officers too,” Chief Price said. “It’s not a tactical situation; it is a chance to just go have a conversation, show that they’re normal and interact.”

La Habra Chamber of Commerce President Mark Sturdevant talks to attendees while Lt. Brian Miller and Detective Mucio Sanchez of the La Habra Police Department and Mr. La Habra James Gomez look on.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

Coffee with a Cop occasionally coincides with the chamber’s weekly “Connect Up” at Corner Bakery.

The chamber is a big supporter of the event, Chamber President Mark Sturdevant said.

“It’s our opportunity to bring people to the police department and have good conversations about some of the needs of business owners,” Sturdevant said. “It’s been very positive.”

Mr. La Habra James Gomez, left, reads a flier to attendees as Jatinder Singh looks on during Coffee with a Cop in La Habra.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

The next Coffee with a Cop is scheduled for Oct. 3 to coincide with National Coffee with a Cop, Lt. Miller said. The time and location are yet to be determined.

La Habra City Councilman James Gomez has seen the relationship between police and the community grow since the event began.

Lt. Brian Miller, left, of the La Habra Police Department, talks to Rosalyn McDonald, 3, of La Habra while her mother, Ashley McDonald, right, talks to Patrol and SWAT Officer Nick McDermott, middle.
Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

“I’ve had the opportunity to have been here on Day 1 with Coffee with a Cop and it’s amazing to see how much it’s grown,” Gomez said. “We think it’s great; it goes along with community policing and people can come into a non-threatening situation and really talk to them and feel comfortable enough to have coffee, and it’s worked really well. People are coming in and sharing concerns with them over a coffee and it’s wonderful.”

La Habra Police Chaplain Mike Murphy, left, and Patrol and SWAT Officer Nick McDermott talk to attendees during Coffee with a Cop at Corner Bakery in La Habra. Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

Sgt. Jose Rocha of the La Habra Police Department, left, talks with Edward Cueva and Bridget Donoghue Vornholt during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge

La Habra City Manager Jim Sadro, left, Carrie Zurich of the City of La Habra’s Community Services Commission, and Mel Ruiz, member of the Board of Directors for the La Habra Chamber of Commerce pose for a photo during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge