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'Coffee with a Cop' events aim to reform police culture in Santa Rosa



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The program has special impact in Roseland, which Schreeder says "needs to be part of the city of Santa Rosa. This is a part of town where people often feel nobody is looking out for them."

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office is the lead law enforcement agency in several pockets of unincorporated Roseland, including where we are sitting this morning along Sebastopol Road. Kucker, an 18-year veteran of the SRPD, says "the beats intertwine and overlap," but the plan is to slowly incorporate the Sheriff's Office sections into the Santa Rosa Police Department's jurisdiction.

In anticipation of annexation, Schreeder has asked for 10 additional employees for the SRPD roster. There are now 65 beat officers on the force out of a total staff of 247, including civilians. "I tell people, every law enforcement organization has a culture," Schreeder says. "We are trying to create that one here."

The new hires would join a force that has put an emphasis on criminology concepts around "procedural justice" and "implicit bias" as it works to build trust. Part of that is explaining how policing works, or should work, which is what procedural justice is all about, Schwartz says. "Give people their voice; be neutral in the conflict; make sure you are basing your actions on the Constitution and law, not on biases; get them to trust that you have their best interest at heart."

Schwartz says the coffees can also help with misperceptions of policing that arise from unchecked bias and videos offered to the internet without context. He acknowledges that some are "spectacular" in the sense that the use of force is unjustified, but adds that in other instances, the "difficulty is reconciling the different viewpoints of the video."

Officers can watch an incident and think, "That's lawful use of force, even if it looks ugly on video," says Schwartz. "A critic's impression: That's a bad apple."

As police culture shifts, so too does the law, and Schwartz says Coffee with a Cop provides an opportunity for officers to explain those changes and defuse frustrations in situations where the police themselves can't do anything. "We try to get people to recognize that the police are not always going to meet their needs. There are times we can't, it's not our role, and that's frustrating to the citizen," Schwartz says. "Laws change, societal expectations change over time, and while the laws may change, the expectations remain the same."

Schwartz notes the "frequency of complaints about [medical] marijuana grows. People still call us all the time because someone is growing three plants in their backyard."

Kucker says she plans on a Coffee with a Cop event every six to eight weeks and expects the next one will be in the Coddingtown mall area. "I am pretty sure officers are running into people they meet at these events," she says. "There is a boomerang effect because of these conversations we are having."

One of those boomerangs made it to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, which reached out to Kucker for advice and held its first Coffee with a Cop earlier this month.

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