Police officers Ben Archer and Michael Renner speak with community member James Marx.
Police officers Ben Archer and Michael Renner speak with community member James Marx.
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For the second week in a row, community members had a chance to have Coffee with a Cop and chat with East Precinct officers in a casual setting, this time at the Starbucks at 824 E. Pike. Last Thursday’s event had a more positive atmosphere with less concerns and issues being brought up to the table and more curiosity about everyday practices of Seattle’s cops.

“There were a lot more concerns at the first event, with the Summit Slope Park and nearby apartments. Today, it’s just a lot of people passing by and stopping at the opportunity to chat with us and learn more about the work that we do,” said bicycle officer Alan Laina. “I live in Seattle and I am kind of aware of a lot of concerns already. I think it’s more symbolizing that I know it’s hard but I deal with the same. I’m not just here to say I’m going to help and go home somewhere outside the city. I live less than two miles away.”

A lot of the questions asked of the officers were focused around police practices when dealing with recently held protests, people with mental health issues and day-to-day protection of the community.

One of the participants praised police work when they witnessed cops on the Hill handling homeless people with mental health issues. He wanted to know how this type of work was being achieved.

“We’re facing a mental health crisis,” said East Precinct Capt. Paul McDonagh. “What we’ve done recently is every officer gets a basic 40 hours of training. We do a lot of practical or scenario training, where the officers have to act out what they’ve learned. We try to defer a lot of people to our mental health services, and I’ve testified multiple times to get more money to our mental health services rather than police force.”

The basic rule is that if those people are not harming themselves or others, officer won’t touch them or try to divert them to mental health services.

James Marx, one of the participants of the event, also complimented the officers’ work during the recent protests, and wanted to hear their stance on how Seattle is setting such high standards.

“There was no window smashing, nothing at the latest protests,” Marx said. “There are usually cases of things going horribly wrong and police using pepper sprays and physical force. It’s not the case here. The people were giving high-fives to the cops on their way out.”

Officers were happy to be recognized for their work and weigh in on the topic.

“We’re reactionary to what the protesters are doing,” said Officer Michael Renner. “As long as they’re being cooperative, we’re there to offer protection. But it takes just one rock being tossed to break the balance.”

“I do believe that Seattle promotes that type of behavior because we are different here, and we’re able to very openly communicate having a difference of opinion,” McDonagh added. “We won’t accept an excessive use of force. We try to overcome the negative perceptions around the nation through our actions every day.”

Marx was also curious to find out how the public should act when witnessing a dangerous situation that has a possibility of growing into physical danger to them or others. Generally, officers advised people to stay out of the dangerous situation and call 911 to report suspicious or illegal activity.

“Especially if something physical is going on, we want you to be safe,” said East Precinct Officer Ben Archer. “When we arrive at the scene, we only have a split second to assess the situation and might be able to separate you from the wrongdoers.”

All officers encouraged the public to let them know directly or call 911 and inform the station of their concerns.

Visible results from communicating with the officers directly already have come to fruition. During the first Coffee with the Cops, a manager of an apartment building approached them and showed them a video of someone trying to break into the building. Since then, they’ve identified the person on camera. They’ve also learned about previously unknown dangerous locations, which they now patrol on a regular basis.

“If we don’t get the calls from the community, we might not know what is going on in this or that area,” Archer said. “Your opinion matters, so it’s always good to call us and let us know what’s going on.”

“We are not perfect, and we make mistakes,” McDonagh said. “But we try new things all the time to make sure we keep our streets safe.”