Salt Lake City cops 'chill' with people to build relations
A Poplar Grove woman went to Smith's just for some bananas and almond milk but when she got there, she found free ice cream and the ear of a concerned cop.
She ran into Salt Lake City police detective Brandon Shearer by the produce section of Smith's at 828 S. 900 West, and she told him about how dogs, mostly pit bulls and Chihuahuas, run around loose in her neighborhood. One time, a few years ago, the animals attacked her own dog while they were out on a walk.
"It makes you nervous," she said. But she felt good about talking to Shearer and getting a free soft-serve ice cream cone in return.
People have a lot of negative run-ins with the police, like when they get speeding tickets, but a chance to talk to them like that shines a positive light on how they are here to protect the community, she said.
The woman's encounter with Shearer on July 25 was not completely serendipitous. Once a month since January, the Salt Lake City Police Department's community intelligence unit and public information officers have been going out into the city to hear people's concerns, field complaints and build a rapport with them. Every time, police have received a good tip about criminal activity in someone's neighborhood, said department spokeswoman Lara Jones.
The program began as Coffee with a Cop, in which officers would chat with people in coffeehouses on their way to work in the morning. But as the extra-warm summer arrived in June, the program shifted to evening stops at Smith's grocery stores and they sweetened the deal, literally, with free ice cream cones.
"It blew us away with what happened," said Sgt. Jeff Webb, who heads the community intelligence unit. A lot of people at the coffee shops lived outside Salt Lake City and had commuted in for work, and generally were in a hurry to get to the office. But at Smith's, cops are catching people shopping in their own neighborhood, who have more time to chat. Before, officers would talk with about 50 people at the July event, they chatted up 75.
The police were also happy to see more children, who are excited for the free ice cream (which the store provides). The way the police see it, a chance for children to see an officer as a human being in a casual environment goes a long way toward building a trusting relationship when they become adults. Officers are not an occupying force, Webb said, they are here to help.
"Chocolate, vanilla or twist, your choice," Detective Dennis McGowan said, showing eager youngsters where to go to get their treat.
They even started bringing police badge stickers and a Salt Lake City police-centric coloring book that parents can use to talk to their children about the sometimes-intimidating subject of public safety, said Jones.
While adults hung back, checked out cantaloupes or talked serious issues with officers, children came by and talked to the police about their summer so far, the Pioneer Day fireworks or simply whether chocolate or vanilla was a more tantalizing flavor of ice cream.
This Thursday will mark the last Chill with a Cop scheduled for this year. Police anticipate shifting the program back to Coffee with a Cop with the return of fall and school but seeing the success of the Smith's stops, they will probably make time for more during the winter, Webb said.
Chill with a Cop
Salt Lake City police officers will be at the Smith's in Sugar House at 922 E. 2100 South on Aug. 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Besides having an opportunity to talk to police, shoppers can get free ice cream.