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The City Journals

Coffee with a cop opens communication with SSL business owners, residents

Apr 03, 2017 09:16AM ● By Brian Shaw

A cup of coffee awaits at a local coffeehouse. Photo/Ken Yamaguchi

By Brian Shaw | [email protected]

Community policing across the country is nothing new. In fact, it's been going on for years in places like Newark, N.J. But in South Salt Lake, the concept is still rather new.

According to Sgt. Bill Hogan, who oversees the South Salt Lake Police Department coffee with a cop program, the monthly event draws business owners and committed, concerned citizens to the Village Inn Restaurant at 2929 South State Street.

“It's open to anyone who wants to come, we have a lot of business owners who come in and have a low-key experience with the chief and officers,” said Hogan.

On average, about 12 to 15 business owners and curious onlookers attend, according to Sgt. Hogan, who added that “the combined effort” was originally the brainchild of South Salt Lake Chamber president Gary Birdsall who met with the then-manager at Village Inn, and both agreed it was a good idea.

That was in 2014. Since then, the program created by Birdsall with the help of Village Inn is still going strong. The program started in September 2014 in South Salt Lake as “part of a national initiative to create a common venue for community members and police officers to come together,” according to a 2014 press release.

The community comes out for the hospitality, adds Hogan. But what they get in return is something bigger than just coffee talk; they get reassurances that the needs of their community are being met.

“First of all, the idea behind it is that the people get to know the officers,” said Hogan. “The format of the meeting is very casual, and the [police] chief will talk for a few minutes and give a few updates on the city. Sometimes, he'll also touch on legislation that involves law enforcement because he's very active in that up on Capitol Hill.”

Hogan said people come for different reasons to coffee with a cop the first Wednesday of the month. For example, not everyone is a coffee drinker—but it is “Free Pie Wednesday,” and so people might come for a slice of pie and something to drink and eat for breakfast.

In the three-plus years the program has been taking place, Hogan said he has seen the program do good for the community as well. One such example is when a business owner provided a tip to police at one meeting, complaining about “a concerning thing happening behind his business,” he said.

The tip turned out to be solid, and, according to Hogan, it “led to someone running an illegal business being cited for illegal activity.” The activity taking place behind the owner's business is now gone, thanks to that tip.

“We have built some great relationships with a lot of business owners and managers that come to this on a regular basis,” said Hogan, whose vision is to continue to see it grow. “We like it there because people feel comfortable.”