Christine Kim rounded the corner of Humphrey and Orange Streets to find seven cops standing outside of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
She didn’t know it, but they’d come to talk with her — and other East Rock neighbors.
“Is there an emergency?” Kim asked the first uniformed officer she approached.
“Yes there is,” Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur replied with a smile. “The emergency is that you have to attend this party right now.”
With that, he leaned down to help tie a yellow-stringed balloon around Kim’s daughter Zora’s stuffed animal panda.
From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., in the heart of East Rock, Sgt. Abdussabur, district manager for East Rock, and a half-dozen of his officers gathered in the church for a meet-and-greet with the neighborhood. Koffee? provided a few tables’ worth of cheese, crackers, fruit and coffee as the local cops introduced themselves to passerby.
At any given moment over the course of the two-hour event, the officers founds themselves chatting with around five to 10 people making an unexpected pit-stop on their way home from work.
Friday’s “Koffee with a Cop” event offered an opportunity for the police to make recommendations on how best to avoid what Sgt. Abdussabur described as “crimes of inconvenience.” Each officer handed out a one-page “Personal Theft Reduction Plan” that included such advice as “always lock your doors upon entering the house” and “trim hedges, bushes and tree limbs that are close to your house that would give criminals a hiding place as they plan their theft.”
Reaching out to a community more familiar with bike thefts and stolen packages than with gang violence and murder, the officers sought to reassure East Rock residents that these quality-of-life crimes are indeed worthy of the police’s time and attention.
“Nobody wants violent crime in their community,” Sgt. Abdussabur confirmed as he spoke with Barbara Ruth, a Yale School of Medicine employee who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. “But for these smaller crimes, if it’s an inconvenience to you, it’s a concern of ours, and we want you to reach out and call us and let us know about it.”
Ruth, who voiced her frustration with the persistent verbal harassment that she is subject to whenever she walks by herself to work, expressed gratitude for the officers’ attention. “Although this problem of street-level sexual harassment is not unique to New Haven, I’d like it if officers were more present downtown, but in a non-obvious way. And the more female police officers there are who can tell off the people shouting invective, the better,” she said.
The conversations were not just about crime and law enforcement. Many of the police officers and passing neighbors simply engaged in friendly banter about the weather, the snacks, and the relationship between cops and the community.
“Most of my conversations this afternoon so far have had nothing to do with policing,” said Officer Michael Calabro, who has been patrolling the district for the past few months after spending years working in Beaver Hills. “And I think that’s great, that people who stop by because they see police officers and think that something tragic has occurred, but wind up staying because they’re happy chatting with a police officer over coffee. This is all about building trust in the community one person at a time, and you do that by getting to know the community itself.”
On the sidewalk adjacent to the church’s lawn, Officers Michael Haines, Monique Moore, and David Santiago stood alongside a cluster of balloons and hailed pedestrians with smiles and handshakes. “Residents are much more confident in your ability to police when you get out there,” Santiago said. “When you get to know the names and faces of the people you serve.”
Although most of the officers would have to rush from the party at around 6:30 to respond to a shooting that had just taken place on the other end of their district on Winchester Avenue, for the time being, this event was as casual and relaxed as either the residents or the cops could have hoped for.
“This type of event, where the police and the residents to get know each other a little better, is like cutting the grass: it’s community maintenance,” Sgt. Abdussabur mused. “Cops have spent too much time dictating the concerns of the community, and this is an opportunity for residents to tell us what matters to them.”
Click on the audio player below to hear a conversation between Sgt. Abdussabur and Ward 10 alder Anna Festa about community policing in East Rock on a recent episode of Urban Talk Radio.
This is the first of 3 tentatively planned Koffee with a Cop events: the next 2 will take place on Saint Ronan Street and in Cedar Hill. For more information, reach out to Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur at email@example.com or 203-887-7303.