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Opening up a line of communication… EPD reaches out to Elizabethton High students through the Coffee with a Cop program

It doesn’t matter where one finds problems it seems that the root of those problems stems from the lack of communication and that hasn’t been more evident than in the last few months on the national scene especially when it comes to the police.

For that reason, police departments throughout the country have looked at innovative ways to open up the lines of communication to break down the barriers that might exist within the community.

Locally, the Elizabethton Police Department has also taken these barriers to heart and on Thursday at the school, EPD Chief Jason Shaw, Major Jerry Bradley, and SRO Josh Baggett took some time to share a cup of coffee and answer questions with students from Ken Hardin and Ryan Presnell’s Criminal Justice class.

The Coffee with a Cop program was launched in Hawthorne, California in 2011 when officers from the Hawthorne Police Department were looking for ways to interact more successfully with the citizens they served each day.

Community policing has long been considered a framework for establishing trust between the community and the police. However, over time the character and composition of our nation’s communities have changed due to shifting demographics, more commuters, and the introduction of different communication methods such as websites and social media according to the program’s website.

The website went on to state that Coffee with a Cop events are now held in all 50 states and is one of the most successful community-oriented policing programs across the country.

The program has also expanded to outside the United States to Canada, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Latin America. The key to Coffee with a Cop’s growing success is that it opens the door for interactions outside of the crisis situations that typically bring law enforcement officers and community members together.

Chief Shaw took the floor and told the students, “The police department is part of the community and I recognize a lot of you in here. To serve and protect with integrity and respect and that is what we want all our folks to do.

“There was a gentleman that was really designated as the father of modern policing in England – Sir Robert Peele. There were nine principles of policing that he came up with in 1829 almost 200 years ago.

“If you look at those principles and read those, there aren’t many differences in what we should be doing today versus those same concepts that the police departments are doing with those things being the duty of all law-abiding citizens.”

Shaw said that he and the other officers present were not there to do the talking but to field questions from the students offering to either open the floor up if the students felt comfortable or come to the students individually to take their questions especially in light of some things that police have been in the spotlight about.

The first question presented by a student was in regards to what it meant for Chief Shaw to wear the badge and carry the gun.

“I like the definition of integrity which is doing the right thing when nobody is looking,” Chief Shaw stated. “That’s the thing that you start learning from a small kid through the rest of your life.

“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is the right thing. Officers are out on duty when nobody is around often dealing with somebody’s worst day they have had in their lifetime and the other part of that is treating people with respect and the way you want to be treated.

“Unfortunately, we do have to use force during times understanding that the amount used is the amount to get the situation under control until the handcuffs are on,” Shaw continued.

“I am very respectful of that and it comes with a lot of responsibility. Doing things sometimes that is the right thing to do but it is hard. Sometimes it’s the hard thing to do but if it falls within the job guideline then it is something that has to be done.”

Just as Chief Shaw finished with the initial question, a second hand raised and a student asked what was the toughest part of his job.

“You don’t know what you are going to face when you come in. It could be a routine day or it could be a day that you will never forget. Sometimes you are dealing with something that is the worst day in a person’s life,” Shaw commented.

“One of the things that make it’s interesting is you don’t know what you will be facing that day and that also is the most challenging.”

Chief Shaw, Major Bradley, and SRO Baggett spent the rest of their time with the students circulating from table to table and chatting with the students in the Elizabethton Commons area.