Deputies with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department listened to community members during two coffee with a cop events at Belleville area McDonald’s.
Customers at the McDonald’s on Westfield Drive and Carlyle Avenue chatted with officers over coffee Wednesday morning.
St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson said it was his plan when he took over as sheriff to engage with the community,
“We want to try to keep the kids out of jail. We’re trying to provide police protection and education. I think we’re doing a good job,” Watson said.
Herman Koester, treasurer of the Ogles Neighborhood Watch Association, said he was eager to attend the event.
“I was able to express my concerns and follow up on a situation where we had someone throw a rock through a window Sunday night,” Koester said. “And I wanted to see what the statistics are as it relates to gun-related crime. I also wanted to know if a shooter could legally possess a gun.”
He said having the chance to met face-to-face with the cops was great. “I got to put a name with a face,” he said.
Tim Clark, president of Oak Hill Estate Neighborhood Association, also liked having the opportunity to meet cops at a neutral spot with a community like atmosphere.
“Some people don’t want to call the police, because they think they are bothering them. Residents tell me days and weeks after some things happen,” Clark said. “People have an opportunity to speak with the police and ask the questions they don’t want to otherwise bother them with. Today, I could ask them about some of the reports I learned about.”
Suzette Lambert, superintendent of Signal Hill School District 181, said coffee with a cop gave her the chance to “connect again with Sgt. (Darren) Fultz.”
“I’m superintendent of Signal Hill and I appreciate the cooperation we have in the district with the sheriff’s department and Belleville police,” she said.
Trust between the public and law enforcement has kind of diminished. The sheriff came up with this idea to show law enforcement cares. We’re good people. We’re here for you. We want to help.
Lt. Kurt Eversman with St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department
Watson said he wants the message to get out to residents: “if you see something, say something.”
While Watson greeted customers or sat on a stool with them, he said, “I couldn’t be happier. All of the employees have responded to what I knew was important. They have embraced it. He pointed to officers who either came in early or who got off early Wednesday morning and came back to the event.”
Stephen Townsend, a manager at McDonald’s, said, “I like the concept of it... the fact that they are trying to have relations between the community and the police.”
He talked about the news reports depicting police in a bad light and said how important it is that the police have the community’s trust.
Watson said communication is key. “You want people to respect what you do. That’s why we solve a lot of crimes. Adults and kids talk to us. And getting into these schools is important, too. One of my deputies took a principal to lunch the other day,” Watson said. “The idea is to be in the community with the public and to engage in conversation with them so they are familiar with us and are comfortable with you.”
St. Clair County Sheriff’s Lt. Kurt Eversman, an investigator with the sheriff’s Drug Tactical Unit, said he was pleased to be out in the community.
“Trust between the public and law enforcement has kind of diminished. The sheriff came up with this idea to show law enforcement cares. We’re good people. We’re here for you. We want to help,” Eversman said. “The number one deterrent for crime is the public’s eyes. There are only so many officers. With what I do the number one thing is the public’s eyes and ears.”
He said mending relations in the community is important to him and many other law enforcement members.
“Coffee with a cop is the perfect way to communicate with residents,” Eversman said.
Another deputy, Desmond Williams, who works with MetroLink, said his assignment takes him back to community-oriented policing he used to do when he worked in East St. Louis for years.
“The way things are changing with social media I think police should get back to community policing and interacting with the people in the communities as well as our business owners to let them know we are there,” Williams said. “We want them to see more than the negative they see on television.”
Annette Tim, administrative assistant to Watson, said “police are people too.”
“We are human. Police have a job to do like the average citizen. Things go easy for residents and police when there is a good line of communication between the two parties. The reason the sheriff wanted to do this event is to build rapport with the communities and neighborhoods where we have the responsibility to police,” Tim said. “I think things are turning out well. The residents clearly want the face-to-face with the police who came here today. And the police also want to be able to connect with the community. What we have here is a win-win situation.”
Linda Havlin, executive director of the West End Redevelopment Corp., said, “We have a close relationship with the sheriff’s department and the city of Belleville.”
“We are at 9700 West Main St. We are on the border right by Signal Hill. A lot of situations are property. I came out to meet the officers and tell them we appreciate the work they do,” she said. “They are responsive to any situation we have concerns about. Interaction between police and the community is important.”
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503