Sleepy people sitting in their cars at the McDonald’s drive-thru lane at SE 44th St. and Shields Boulevard in Oklahoma City Wednesday were in for a surprise. When they pulled up to the window it wasn’t the usual McDonald’s uniforms they saw inside.
Oklahoma City Police officers Tom Myers, Elizabeth Heard and Sgt. Ray Swearingen – all in uniform – greeted each new customer to pull up and handed them their order as the McDonald’s staff handled the money.
Instead of talking through an open car window during a traffic stop, the officers and customers were having a positive open-window meeting.
It was a part of the “Coffee with a Cop” monthly program when OKCPD officers have time and a casual atmosphere to visit with people from a neighborhood in this sprawling city.
“I love it,” said Swearingen with an energetic smile. “I really like this positive contact with people. It’s a good thing.”
Meanwhile, Inside the large dining room, their patrol colleagues and supervisors from the Santa Fe Division visited with customers over coffee provided by the restaurant.
“This is a big city,” Major John Gonshor told Free Press. He oversees the Santa Fe Division.
“I want all of us to get to know the people in these neighborhoods as real people and not just statistics. And I want them to get to know us as people. That’s why I like this idea.”
The Santa Fe Division has a diverse mix of neighborhoods, cultures and economic levels.
It includes the historic Capitol Hill area just south of downtown all the way to the Moore city limits and then extending to the end of the city limits southeast beyond Tinker Air Force Base.
Gonshor talked about the process of making the neighborhoods safe and a good place for people to live.
“A lot of that depends on whether they will cooperate and tell us if they have problems, because police officers see very little crime. Most of our big cases come from citizens calling in. And they won’t do that if they don’t trust us. So, we are trying to build trust in the community,” said Gonshor.
It was a good day for the officers of the Santa Fe Division. The body language and conversation of those who came was decidedly relaxed.
But it’s not always that way. The division encompasses some quiet neighborhoods, but also some of the most distressed parts of the south side, too.
When some people see the police in their neighborhoods, it’s not always for positive reasons.
And so, police of all ranks welcomed the friendly environment where they and the neighbors could get better acquainted under decidedly better circumstances.
Chief Bill Citty and community relations officers stopped by, too. They visited with several people, some of whom may have never met and talked to the chief in person.
It was an unusual morning in the dining room with so many of the OKCPD gray and black uniforms. Guests kept the officers busy in conversation for the whole two hours.
Some just wanted to walk up and shake their hand.
Some stood for just a short while saying “thank you” and “sure glad to meet you.”
Others visited longer, finding the officers to be eager to ask and listen to their concerns and needs.
McDonald’s Area Supervisor Daniel Campuzano oversees that McDonald’s, five others in the metro and two in Tulsa.
He said that they were hosting the event “for the community around our restaurant, our guests, and our police officers who are patrolling the area.”
“We want our employees, customers and neighbors to all get to know the officers who patrol this area,” Campuzano said.
“We know and the police officers know that the community in this area is not the safest, so we want to start a change,” he said. “Let’s start a change. Let’s turn it around.”
Each month the meeting takes place at different restaurant locations throughout the city.
The “Coffee with a Cop” program in Oklahoma City has been in place for the past several years. The idea has been at work in other cities across the U.S. for longer.
It is a collaboration between the Oklahoma City Police Department, the Neighborhood Alliance of Oklahoma City and various restaurant chains that lend the space and coffee to put citizens in a neighborhood in casual one-on-one contact with the patrol officers assigned there.