‘Coffee with a Cop’ breaks down barriers between elected officials and residents


St. Johns County residents recently had the opportunity to meet with Sheriff David Shoar and County Administrator Michael Wanchick at an informal meet and greet session in St. Augustine called Coffee with a Cop.

Held at City Bistro Tea House & Coffee Company Dec. 9, the session’s goal was to provide residents with a relaxed environment to approach their elected officials, ask questions, discuss community issues and build relationships. The event also included Commander Scott Beaver and Sergeant Jim Priester from the sheriff’s office.

“It’s a good opportunity,” said St. Augustine resident Ken Edel. “You get to actually meet the people you’ve elected or the people who are working for your community. It’s great to put a face to the name, especially when you don’t always see the deputies around.”

Like many other residents at the event, Lisa Farese simply came to thank the men. Hurricane Matthew impacted her neighborhood, and she said the county was extremely responsive and helpful in dealing with looters.

“Until the trash was picked up, we had a lot of people in our neighborhood trying to sift through the trash,” she said. “It was really uncomfortable. They added extra patroling and were always right there.”

Edel’s wife, Sharon, came to Coffee with a Cop to share with officials the subtle racism she has experienced since moving recently from Tallahassee to St. Augustine, and to thank them for making her feel safe amid those issues.

“As an African American woman, I need to be able to look at someone in uniform or driving by and know that I’m ok because they’re there,” she said. “This (event) was just a good opportunity to look one in the eye and say thank you for all you do because I’m a new resident, and they have consistently made me feel safe.”

In addition, residents asked about permitting and building activity post-Hurricane Matthew as well as a few questions regarding traffic.

Wanchick said the session was a great demonstration of the strong and healthy relationship between the sheriff’s office and the county administrators.

“One of the things that makes the county such a great place is the level of cooperation not only between the county and the constitutional officers like David, but the county and the cities, the chamber of commerce, the school board, the non profits, the private sector, etc.,” said Wanchick. “You don’t turn that on in a hurricane. You don’t learn how to do that in the middle of a natural disaster. You cultivate those relationships at events like today.”

Shoar agreed. It’s very unusual for sheriffs in the state of Florida, he said, to get along so well with their county administrators.

“It’s all about relationships,” said Shoar. “It’s all about selflessness, and if you put your community and your constituents above yourself, you’ll always come out on top.”

Sergeant Priester found the session to be a welcome change from the encounters they usually have with residents.

“I think it’s better than us being behind them with our blue lights on,” he said. “We’re in a neutral area where they can let their guard down, and we can let our guard down and talk to them about their concerns.”

Coffee with a Cop is a nationally popular initiative that was started by a police department in Hawthorne, California in 2011 in an effort to better understand the needs and concerns of community residents. Over the past five years, police departments and sheriff’s offices have adopted the practice for their respective communities.

Officials from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office say they hope to host Coffee with a Cop on a monthly to quarterly basis moving forward.