DPS hosts ‘Coffee with a Cop’ event Tuesday night

The Department of Public Safety hosted their first “Coffee With A Cop” event at Nature’s Brew Cafe on Tuesday. The event provided a platform for conversation between DPS officers and the community, and feeds into the recent DPS initiative for community engagement. Throughout the night, students entering Nature’s Brew shared coffee and tea with 10 DPS officers.

“I think it went amazing, better than expected,” said Elizabeth Carreno, head of community relations for DPS. “We had a lot of people show, but not too many so that we could still interact one on one and that’s the real goal behind this … to get to know more people on a personal level.”

Initially, DPS reached out to Nature’s Brew simply as a host location for the event. The cafe went a step further by providing all participants with a free cup of coffee or iced tea. The collaboration came from a long-standing relationship between Nature’s Brew and DPS.

“We have a really good relationship with the DPS officers, as well as LAPD,” said Alex Kefalos, the manager at Nature’s Brew who sponsored the event. “Most of them come in almost every day. We always offer a discount to our officers and we’re always happy to have them here. When they approached us for the event, it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Though the event was open to the community, it mostly drew student participants. Students taking breaks from studying for midterms discussed everything from campus safety to majors and favorite sports teams with the officers. This type of conversation allowed students to connect in a more casual, familiar atmosphere.

“I liked the setting, I liked that it was more casual and that it made it easier to talk to the officers,” said Kezia Rusli, a junior majoring in occupational therapy. “If they don’t engage with the community, how do they know how to protect them or who the people are? If they’re not connecting with us, they just seem distant, so it was great to see them really making the effort connect with us more.”

At first, conversations stuck strictly to safety-related topics, such as how to use the LiveSafe app and how to pick a safe place to live off-campus. But as students grew more comfortable, they began to open up about their majors — their hopes for the future and their experiences as USC students.

One student joked with DPS Chief John Thomas about the rivalry with UCLA; another discussed learning new languages with officer Erwin Valencia, who is fluent in five. Stretched out at a long wooden table covered in half-empty cups of coffee, the group of students and officers began to build relationships, something that each of the officers had hoped to see.

“I believe we can build some trust, and when there’s trust we can do a better job, and we can keep the streets safer,” Valencia said. “Everything’s about trust.”

In the end, Carreno said that the event was exactly what she was hoping for, providing personal attention to each of the students who took part. She plans to host more “Coffee With A Cop” events in the future in order to continue building relationships and engaging students with their security officers.

“I want the community to get to know us as officers, I want people to be able to see us not just as a uniform but as people,” Carreno said. “And we also want to get to know someone, not just as a student or a community member, but as a person. I think we achieved that tonight.”