Kathy and Scott Kulp worried something might be wrong when they saw half a dozen police officers swarming their favorite coffee shop on July 28.
But the couple from Elverson, Chester County, had nothing to fear.
Officers with the Caernarvon Township Police Department were gathered at the nearby Morgantown Coffee House, 4997 North Twin Valley Road, Caernarvon Township, to enjoy coffee with area residents.
“This is just a way to break down barriers,” said Cpl. Chad Eberly, a detective, who helped organize the event, Coffee with a Cop. “It is chance for officers and the community to come together in an informal, neutral space to discuss issues, build relationships, and drink coffee.”
A national initiative, Coffee with a Cop events were held across the country. The program aims to improve relationships between police officers and the public.
Most interactions between the public and law enforcement happen during emergencies or emotional situations, Eberly said, not the most effective times for relationship building. Sunday’s event was a chance for one-on-one interaction in a relaxed and informal environment.
Though there are no particular law-enforcement issues facing the township, Eberly said, some residents were concerned about the possible repercussions of a proposed $111 million mini-casino approved by the Caernarvon Township supervisors in March. The 86,000-square-foot entertainment facility proposed by Penn National Gaming of Wyomissing will be accessible from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Route 10.
More than 250 area residents had attended a hearing in front of the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission earlier that month, raising concerns ranging from drug trafficking and addiction to religious beliefs and community safety.
“What do you think about the casino?” Kathy Kulp asked Officer Tom Becker. “Will crime increase?”
Becker said the department does not anticipate a significant upswing in crime if the casino is built.
Chief John Scalia said no more than five or six extra calls a month are expected. To help alleviate concerns raised at the March hearing, he said, members of the department will be trained to recognize activity that could indicate vice crimes.
“Anything we can learn is always helpful,” Scalia said. “It helps us grow stronger as a police department.”
The event also was a chance to learn, he said, as the public and officers interacted.
“Some community members may feel that officers are unapproachable on the street,” Scalia said, noting videos posted on social media often show police using violence, which is not representative of an officer’s typical day.
While force is sometimes necessary, there is no ill intent, the chief said.
“We are here to serve the community,” he said.
Many of the township’s officers coach youth sports and have children of their own, Scalia said, smiling proudly at his wife, Jackie, their daughter, Marena, 18, and son, Mannie, 13, as they sipped iced lattes and chatted with Officer William Smith.
“This event lets them see that we are human, too,” Scalia said.
That is something the Kulps know well.
“Scott’s son, my stepson, is a police officer in South Carolina,” Kathy said.