'Coffee with a Cop' sweetened with a community-building message
Especially if it’s a police officer who works in your town.
Because they’re on the move every day, they know what goes on and where it’s going on and aren’t shy about sharing the details with residents.
What follows is usually a quite familiar sentiment:
“Be our eyes and ears in your neighborhood.”
I got my chance last week, and walked away realizing that even though they were discussing my hometown of Euclid, their message could be applied anywhere.
Euclid Police Department this month started what’s known as “Coffee with a Cop,” a gathering that will take place every other Tuesday at a couple of establishments in the city. The first Tuesday of the month, they’re at Cortina’s, a restaurant on Euclid Avenue just east of East 222nd Street. The third Tuesday, they’re at Lakeshore Coffeehouse, on Lakeshore Boulevard, just west of the intersection of East 222nd Street and Babbitt Road.
On hand last week at Lakeshore Coffeehouse were Euclid Police Chief Tom Brickman, Capt. Ralph Doles and Officer Ed Bonchak.
Bonchak, who is married to News-Herald Staff Writer Jean Bonchak, works in the city’s Community Policing Unit. Doles is in the city’s Traffic Division.
When it came time for questions, I realized mine were the same as most other residents — and they probably mirror a lot of yours, as well.
When I cornered Doles, I went right for a biggie: How big a problem is heroin in Euclid?
I know it’s been a growing problem nationwide, and arrests are mounting across the area.
“I think the biggest drug of choice in our city is still marijuana right now but it’s there, no doubt about it,” Doles said of heroin. “We have areas we’re flooding with police officers and yet we’re still seeing it. ... So, what we’ve told the officers, and we’ve made some good pickups on this, is even though it’s the buyers, and the buyers don’t have anything, that they stop and say, ‘Can I help you with anything?’ The fact is, ‘Hmmm, you’re from Lake County ... You’re from Madison ... What are you doing here in Euclid? Are you looking for something?’ I think it’s rather obvious what they’re doing. So police make the contact, and police make the stop.”
Doles said that’s how Euclid Police made the arrest of the mother and son who were later convicted of killing a 77-year-old Madison Township resident.
“As with any crimes we have in Euclid, we need people to report everything they see,” Doles said. “I would rather get 10 calls on something that’s nothing, than miss something that could have been something we could have prevented or stopped.”
The trio talked a lot about the city’s use of a program called Blackboard, which updates residents with emergency information such as water main breaks, or road closures, or, in the case of an incident a few weeks ago, lets them know a criminal suspect escaped from Euclid Hospital while undergoing treatment after her arrest.
Residents on hand last week are happy with the program, but urged Brickman to add a second step to the Blackboard process — an announcement when a suspect has been re-arrested.
Brickman said his department has been learning a lot since they started using the program and will be making some changes.
Doles urged those on hand to sign up. They can receive emails, phone calls or text messages for incoming news.
“They’ll notify you when things are going on,” he said. “Say your garbage is delayed a day, it’ll notify you. So you don’t ever need to think again, ‘If I watch my neighbor’s yard and he puts his garbage out, mine’s going to go out.’ So you don’t have to worry about it, because it’ll notify you. Say there’s a boil alert because of a water main break, we’ll notify you.”
Blackboard is found on the city’s website, www.cityofeuclid.com.
The presence of gangs also had residents’ attention, but the police officials on hand said there’s no need to worry.
“We have seen a group of wannabes,” Doles said. “A group of kids, it’s like I’m Slovenian, and we have SNPJ, and we’ve had SNPJ forever. It’s a social group. It’s a place to go meet and do your stuff. When grandma was still alive, she’d speak Slovenian to her cronies. This is what they’re doing, they’re just getting together with their social group to have fun. Now, the question is, what is their goal with that social group. Is it just to get together with friends, or is it to do criminal activity? That’s where we have problems.”
Brickman said a key element of the gang culture is missing — money.
“In terms of a financial system and guns being distributed — we really don’t see that,” he said.
Bonchak said police are alerted by graffiti, which police document, take a photo and remove within 72 hours.
“We have a kid problem, not a gang problem,” Bonchak said. “We have a lot of kids in a small area.”
All three police officials stressed the need for residents to pay attention to what’s going on and communicate with their neighbors.
“We need strong neighborhoods,” Doles said. “We need it where my neighbor and I talk to each other. Look, I don’t have to know what you’re doing every minute of every day. But, you respect me, I respect you. You watch out for the neighborhood, I watch out for the neighborhood. But that’s where we’re going to keep this city good and strong. The neighborhood associations are very big in this city. Keep those strong. Talk to your neighbors, get out of your comfort zone. Go across the street and say hello.”
During the question-and-answer session, which also touched on a rash of bike thefts (“People spend 200 to 300 dollars on a bike and don’t spend the $3.50 to buy the little lock,” Bonchak said.) and a variety of issues the police said haven’t been reported to police thus far, I realized their message wasn’t unique to my city alone.
Each of our hometowns can use a little more vigilance and a little more communication. Telling police what we see is key to them solving the problems we stumble upon.
It’s up to each of us to make it happen.