Coffee with a Cop Returns

Grace Allen
Detective Michelle Palladini, visiting with a retired Walpole police officer, during a recent Coffee with a Cop event at Cilla’s Coffeehouse.
Issue Date: 
October, 2018
Article Body: 

A national outreach program that brings together police officers and citizens in a casual environment is entering its second year in Norfolk. “Coffee with a Cop” returns to Cilla’s Coffeehouse on Tuesday mornings from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., after a brief summer hiatus.
Norfolk Detective Michelle Palladini hosts the weekly event, which she thinks of as office hours for residents to drop by, say hello, and discuss issues big and small.
“I regularly visit Cilla’s and have met so many amazing people in our community,” said Palladini. “It got to the point where I would sit and have coffee or lunch there and chat with people and it seemed only natural to begin having a regular ‘coffee hour,’ which fit in quite nicely with the national initiative.”
As the resource officer at King Philip Middle School, Palladini has long held monthly Coffee Chats with parents at the school, discussing parental concerns such as bullying, drugs and alcohol abuse, and social/emotional health. Hosting an additional, offsite location for talking with other community members seemed a logical extension of those monthly meetings.
A proponent of “it takes a village,” Palladini believes the connections forged during her community coffee hour at Cilla’s help build relationships everyone can benefit from, not just parents.
“It’s my hope that these conversations I have during the coffee hour help to connect people with each other. It’s amazing to see the linkages that occur simply by sitting in a coffee shop and having conversations, as opposed to staring at our phones and laptops,” she said.
Palladini has discussed a wide array of topics with the coffee shop’s patrons, including mental health resources, the opioid crisis, scams, traffic complaints, neighbor disputes, defiant children, and grandparents raising grandchildren.
Community feedback to the initiative has been positive, noted Palladini, once people get over the surprise of seeing a police officer in uniform sitting down and drinking coffee with residents.
“It’s great to showcase the humanness of police officers,” she said. “We are allowed to smile, interact, laugh, and engage. It’s important that people see us beyond the uniform. For me, sitting down in a relaxed environment and having conversations helps to break down the barriers that come with a uniform that symbolizes authority and control. I love seeing people’s faces shift from confusion and concern, to smiles and appreciation, after having a conversation with the rogue cop sitting in the coffee shop. It throws them off in the best way possible.”
According to its website, the mission of Coffee with a Cop is to build trust between citizens and police officers by meeting together in neutral locations and outside of crisis situations. The highly-successfully initiative, a type of community policing, was started in California in 2011 and has spread across all fifty states.
The premise is simple, but the resulting interactions between the public and police officers can be instrumental in keeping the lines of communication open between the two groups. In addition, citizens are more likely to come away with a more positive impression of local law enforcement.
Said Palladini, “It’s amazing the conversations I’ve had that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. I am quite lucky. This community is incredible. People are so receptive to the police in our area."