Since taking over street patrols in Falcon Heights on Jan. 1, Ramsey County Sheriff’s officials have promised a cordial and positive relationship with the city and the people who live there.
And they’ll get it going Thursday over a cup of coffee.
Several deputies, investigators and administrators will gather in the community room of the Town Square Apartments, 1550 Larpenteur Av. W., for “Coffee With A Cop,” a program designed to help them get to know the people they serve and vice versa, said deputy Mike Servatka.
“We sit at a table and talk to people,” Servatka said. “There’s no agenda. There’s no predetermined spiel. We just invite people to a conversation.”
It is, however, an important conversation, he said, designed to allow deputies and citizens to ask each other questions in an open and informal setting. The hope is that such meetings will help foster greater understanding, that sheriff’s officials and the public will more easily see each other as people deserving of respect and not to be feared.
The change in policing in Falcon Heights came on the heels of the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop. The St. Anthony City Council voted last year to discontinue its 22-year agreement to patrol Falcon Heights, a city of 6,000 on St. Paul’s northern border.
So the Falcon Heights City Council last fall approved a law enforcement contract of more than $1 million annually with the Sheriff’s Office. The city had been paying $670,000 annually to St. Anthony.
While this “Coffee With A Cop” will be the first in Falcon Heights, it’s one of a series of such events held in the six suburban communities that contract with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
It’s also the first chance for county officials and deputies to chat with Falcon Heights residents since a couple open houses were held late last year after the contract was approved.
“We were looking for something that would give us the ability to continue community engagement,” said Randy Gustafson, a public information officer with the Sheriff’s Office who also sits on the Falcon Heights City Council. “How do you find a way to connect with the community?”
Gustafson said that “Coffee With A Cop” is a national initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Justice. Ramsey County has hosted about a dozen such gatherings since 2015, including events in Little Canada, North Oaks and White Bear Township. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office hosts summer gatherings in county parks called “Hot Dog With A Deputy.”
The get-togethers have drawn a wide and diverse range of attendees, young and old alike, Gustafson said.
That diversity gives deputies and officials a chance to not just interact with a lot of different people, Servatka said, but to educate folks about what they do and why. Officials also provide information on crime trends and scams being used to victimize residents.
“In this day and age of social media and smartphones, people still don’t know what we do on a day-to-day basis,” Servatka said. Meeting the public over coffee, he said, “can be a slow process, but I believe it’s making a difference, one person at a time.”