On Wednesday, the Wellesley College community took part in national Coffee with a Cop day, hosted by the Wellesley College Campus Police.
“Coffee with a Cop” began in Hawthorne, California in 2011 with officers from the Hawthorne Police Department seeking ways to connect with their community. Since then, the annual event has spread nationally, and even internationally to Canada, Europe, Australia, Africa and Latin America, according to the event’s website.
According to Chief of Campus Police Lisa Barkin, this is the second year the Wellesley College Police Department has held this event and the fourth year the town of Wellesley’s Police Department has held this event. With coffee, pastries and outreach flyers, members of the Wellesley College Campus Police Department stood outside of Lulu to interact with students and other members of the Wellesley community.
Besides the coffee table, there was an informational table with flyers advertising Campus Police’s initiatives and contact information. Campus police also prominently displayed their Oct. breast cancer awareness initiative. Officer Ilyas Abu stated that the Wellesley College Police Department is “trying to expand the program with the pink patch project,” with many campus police officers wearing pink patches instead of the usual yellow patches on their arms this month to raise awareness for breast cancer research.
Officer Abu further said that the “goal of this program is…to thank the community for the support because without the community [the police department] would not be here.” Officer Barkin added that Coffee with a Cop is “a real casual setting where we can talk with students.”
But with policing being an increasingly contentious issue in the United States as a whole, and especially with criminal justice and policing reform having risen to the forefront of the national political conversation in recent years, Wellesley College students had a range of responses to Coffee with a Cop. While some enjoyed the initiative, others saw it as an effort to gloss over serious issues in policing both on-campus and in the country at large.
Cheyenne Curley ’22, liked the event. “I thought that it was a really creative initiative,” she said. “The cops were really friendly and all of the snacks were tempting. I think that having events like this are a good way of helping students put faces to cops. Hopefully [Coffee with a Cop] fosters more trust in our community. I think more police departments should be doing this!”
Not everyone on the campus, however, felt as positive towards Coffee with a Cop, with some challenging just how casual the setting truly was. Dafni Diamanti ’20, called the event “pro-police propaganda” that “equate[s]…radically different” interactions, because having a police officer “give you tea and cookies will never be the same as her asking to come into your room while she is armed.”
Cal Bullitt, head of multicultural affairs at Wellesley College, on the other hand, believes that a “community outreach” event like Coffee with a Cop makes sense “since our police force is pretty much service-based.” Unlike most city and town police departments, the Wellesley Police Department’s work is more likely to involve helping a student with a lockout than dealing with any sort of criminal activity. But, like Diamanti, Bullitt worries that the police force was armed for the event. “A huge obstacle for students when it comes to having a relationship with campus police is the fact that our cops are always armed. It’s hard to feel comfortable around an armed force, especially when there isn’t a clear need for one with our specific campus demographic,” they said.
Along the same lines, Tatenda Rameau ’20 believes, “Campus Po seems to operate within the Wellesley bubble, wherein their personal history of committing any form of violence, is, I assume, quite low. However, they are dealing with students who have lived through a diverse set of contexts – and that can make starting a conversation very difficult.”
Wellesley Against Mass Incarceration (WAMI), like Diamanti and Bullitt, expressed concerns over the police officers being armed, among other issues, stating, “We recognize and appreciate campus police’s efforts to speak with students and members of the community about the role of campus police. We feel students may feel more comfortable engaging with events like these if campus police were unarmed during this time and during other interactions with students, such as lockouts. In addition, we feel that ‘conversations’ with campus police are rarely framed to be policy discussions or opportunities for students to address complaints, but rather seem more of a [public relations] thing. We plan on meeting with campus police and college government to better address our concerns.”
Sabrina Lobato ‘23 found Coffee with a Cop to be a “useful…way to meet people in [the] community,” liking how “people aren’t just names.” When discussing issues with policing, she noted that “we have to remember that not everyone is part of the problem–some people are part of the solution.”