Huntington Beach residents and police chatted over a cup of coffee this week to get to know one another on equal ground.
Wednesday's Coffee with a Cop, the city's first, was similar to those Police Chief Robert Handy planned while working for the San Bernardino and Phoenix police departments, Capt. Russell Reinhart said a day before the event.
"It worked very well because it provides an opportunity for residents to communicate with officers on a mutual territory, on non-critical issues," Handy said. "It just helps us to develop some positive contacts with residents and also gives us an insight into what their issues are relating to public safety."
Handy, who has been at the helm of the department since December, said people usually only interact with police when they are victims, witnesses or suspects in an incident.
"Those are all bad days for those people and for an officer, it might be their 13th call of the day, might be tired and might be short with them," he said. "So [Coffee with a Cop] allows officers to have positive interactions with the public and show them that we're human as well."
The chief added that it's important to listen to residents and understand their concerns with the city.
"It's easy for me to say, as the chief, what the community's priorities are based on what I think," Handy said. "But the department serves the public much better if we understand what their priorities are."
Officer John Mauger and resident Robyn Smietan talked about motorcycles.
"She told me that she talks to cops all the time, and I asked if she was a police officer," said Mauger, who patrols the west side of the city. "She said she wasn't and that she sells BMW motorcycles and talks with a lot of officers from [the] CHP and Long Beach PD. She's even invited me to come down to see the new motorcycles at the shop."
Smietan, 51, and her partner, Amy Crawford, 40, have lived in the area for about four years and used the event as a way to thank their beat officers for their service as well as to connect with them on a social level.
"Cops are real people and it's just nice to come out and thank them," Smietan said. "I think it's a thankless job and they have to deal with people on their worst days of their lives a lot of times, so it's nice to thank them for coming today to say hi."
While Handy would like to see Coffee with a Cop occur on a monthly basis at various locations around Huntington Beach, he recognizes the difficulty of accomplishing that feat while staffing levels are still recovering.
"It's going to take us a little while to get a good system down to where we're getting regular attendees and getting the officers who usually patrol the area there at the same time," he said. "It's going to take some time, but that's the ultimate goal."
Reinhart said the department is looking to host their next Coffee with a Cop at Woody's Diner sometime in May.
"I think it's good for us to do this and to be accessible to the public," Mauger said. "I think it's equally important that the public doesn't feel inhibited to be able to contact us at any time. I think that's the way it should be."