For Starbucks district manager Sean Greenlee, conversations over coffee between members of his South Seattle community and law enforcement have changed perceptions of local police.
“Starbucks has a long-standing relationship with the police department here, so we decided to engage them with the customers who visit our stores,” he says. “Once we brought them all together, there was a greater sense of understanding on both sides and many assumptions were laid to rest.”
Since September of last year, Greenlee has worked with stores in his district to host these “Coffee with a Cop” events that bring residents and police together to discuss relevant issues and find common ground. Greenlee’s efforts join hundreds of others that have taken place at Starbucks locations and other coffee shops across the country and internationally. Two years ago, Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz joined Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole at a Coffee with a Cop meeting in Seattle and the New York Police Department participated in three gatherings that same year after Schultz championed the program to Police Commissioner William Bratton and Community Affairs Bureau Chief Joanne Jaffe.
“Starbucks has been a valuable community partner in its support of our initiative,” says Chris Cognac, Sergeant, Community Affairs Unit of the Hawthorne Police Department in Hawthorne, California, which launched the Coffee with a Cop program as a grassroots effort in 2011. “Police Officers and citizen’s all over the U.S. and around the world, have broken down barriers, established trust and built relationships.”
On February 17, at a symposium hosted by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), Schultz once again joined Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole to share the importance of improving trust between police and communities and how Starbucks can play a role in that process. The company announced plans to provide additional support of the Coffee with a Cop program by hosting 100 events across its U.S. stores within the year. Starbucks will partner with NOBLE, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Major Cities Chiefs Association to kick off the first of these events in five cities, Dallas, Indianapolis, New York, Norfolk, VA and Seattle.
"Starbucks has always served as a gathering place for communities across the country to come together—including law enforcement and the people they serve and protect," says Schultz. "The "Coffee with a Cop" program builds on a tradition that began in our stores and continues to grow each day. We are pleased to host meetings in our stores across the U.S. where police and the community can meet and share experiences to foster greater understanding and empathy."
For Starbucks, the initiative is one of many ways the company is working to bring communities together and create opportunities for all, including open forums with partners (employees) around the country, Military Mondays to engage veterans and connect them with free legal counsel, and in-store job skills training programs for local youth at its new stores in diverse, urban communities like Ferguson, MO and the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago’s Southside.
“Community trust is critical to effective policing,” says Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “Trust can only be achieved through ongoing engagement and dialogue. We are grateful to Starbucks for this opportunity to build greater trust and understanding between our officers and those we serve.”
Building Stronger Communities
A survey conducted by the Coffee with a Cop organization following 2016 National Coffee with a Copy Day, resulted in 70 percent of residents saying they felt better about their local police after formal conversations with law enforcement and 87 percent would recommend these events to a friend.
Through Starbucks increased commitment to Coffee with a Cop events, the company hopes that more communities will learn about and decide to pursue these forums and feel empowered to connect with local police officers.
“I appreciate being in a position to facilitate these conversations,” said Greenlee, who will host a Coffee with a Cop event as part of Starbucks increased commitment starting in March. “This is the starting point for addressing some of the most difficult issues and ultimately finding solutions. These events can only lead to more cohesive, happy and safe communities.”
Hosting a Coffee with a Cop Event
Police departments that are interested in hosting a Coffee with a Cop event are encouraged to connect directly with the store manager of their local Starbucks store.