May the force be with you: SRJC and Petaluma police officers speak with students over coffee

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Courtney Paige

Students buzz about and connect during “Coffee with a Cop” on the Petaluma campus.

Courtney Paige, Web Editor and Assistant A&E Editor

Establishing positive relationships with police officers removes the jolt of hearing sirens or the sting that comes with seeing red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. “Coffee with a Cop” is an outreach program focused on fostering a connection within the community.

Santa Rosa Junior College student Elizabeth Youngs said, “I think ‘Coffee with a Cop’ is great because it gives us a chance to talk to real people and thank them for serving our community, and it allows us to create a bond with them.”

SRJC hosted  “Coffee with a Cop” Feb. 10 in the Petaluma campus café, creating a neutral environment where people connected and created partnerships with police they may have formerly viewed as foes.

“Our purpose is to create community engagement with the campus, faculty and students so they understand what our capabilities are and that we are a full-functioning police department,” said SRJC Chief of Police Lorenzo Dueñas.

As protectors of the community, police monitor and mentor people who want to turn their lives around.  “By helping people, we get satisfaction from being needed and I really like being outside and providing a needed service to the public,” said Petaluma Police Department Lt. Tim Lyons.

SRJC District Police Officer Dan Miller enjoys patrolling the districts and connecting with the community. A success story that resonates with Miller highlights the epitome of a law enforcement mentor.

Miller knew a student from a guidance program at a local high school who ran into some trouble.

“I had to arrest him for drugs and he got kicked out of school for drug-related issues,” Miller said. “We told him even though he made a bad choice, just like we tell our children, we still loved him. We told him when he decided to turn his life around we would be there for him.”

The kind yet firm words Miller shared solidified the boy’s future. He took responsibility for his mistake and eventually was allowed to enroll as a senior at Casa Grande High School.

“I was a representative and advocate for him and helped him get on the football team,” Miller said. “He ended up becoming an academic and all-league player, went to UC Davis and took over his dad’s business overseas.” The young man prevailed because a police officer believed in him, proving not all police are adversaries.

“Coffee with a Cop” is just one of the community outreach programs SRJC District Police fosters. One event Miller said he’s proud of is “Shop with a Cop,” an opportunity for law enforcement to connect with youth in the community.

Miller said the department sponsored 13 under-privileged students with a $100 shopping spree to Target. “The smile on their face was a gratifying experience,” he said.

Dueñas said another community engagement program soon to launch is “Straight Talk,” in which police sit in a circle with folks for a question-and-answer session.

SRJC Librarian Phyllis Usina said she encouraged the event to happen on the Petaluma campus. “It’s nice to meet folks and speak with the Petaluma police force because they are most likely our first responders,” she said.