Oaklanders grab coffee with cops (and horses)
on October 3, 2019
Oakland Police Department (OPD) officer Michael Tacchini loves caramel macchiatos. They aren’t his favorite, but he likes to get them when he’s in a “good mood,” he said.
Tacchini and about a dozen other OPD officers were in pretty high spirits as they gathered Wednesday afternoon at a Starbucks near the Oakland Coliseum BART station. They all had volunteered to participate in “Coffee with a Cop Day,” a nationwide event that provides residents with the opportunity to meet and speak with local police officers.
Although few of the Starbucks patrons stopped to speak with the officers, they said they were happy to have the chance to hear any concerns people might raise. More than one officer said the most frequently voiced concerns from Oakland residents at these types of events are about burglaries and homelessness. For example, Tacchini said, people in this area near the airport often speak to him about auto burglaries, especially luggage stolen from cars.
Citywide, Tacchini said the major complaint he gets is about abandoned cars. “That’s our number one call for service,” he said. “In 2017 they reported over 20,000 calls citywide, just for abandoned autos.”
“Homelessness is a big problem throughout the city,” said Officer Stefan Edinburgh, who works with the department’s crisis team, which handles mental health distress calls. “There are a number of encampments nearby,” Edinburgh said. “I do get a few calls around here for those.”
Tacchini said he has been an OPD officer for six years and that this was his second or third Coffee with a Cop Day. During Wednesday’s event, he hoped to “just reach out to the community, just say hi to people, just have a nice cup of coffee with them,” he said.
Other officers said they wanted to use the event as a chance to build more positive relations with residents. Officer John Lipscomb said he hoped their attendance would help community members see the officers as more than just their uniforms, that they “aren’t like robots,” he said.
Lipscomb has deep ties to Oakland—he grew up in the city and currently lives by Lake Merritt. The OPD has struggled to hire officers who live in the city; according to a report presented by the city’s personnel manager at a Public Safety Committee meeting last week, only 10 percent of the OPD’s force actually lives in Oakland. That’s fed public concern that OPD officers don’t care about Oaklanders.
“A lot of people believe a lot of officers are not vested in the community,” Lipscomb said. But he argued that this isn’t true, and that a lot of officers take pride in serving Oakland.
While the officers chatted together out in front of the Starbucks, nearby staff from the OPD Neighborhood Services Section, which does neighborhood outreach and presentations on safety, had set up a table with information about crime prevention tips. And most importantly, said Police Services Technician Brian Cassidy, the table had plenty of swag, like water bottles and pens in OPD blue.
The most popular items were the “pop its” he said, small plastic pieces that people stick on the backs of their phones that “pop out” as a way to help them hold their phones more easily.
A couple of mounted officers arrived astride two horses: Uptown and Pépé. “Pépé with an accent,” clarified Officer Anthony Castro, “because he is French.”
Castro said that the mounted officer program had been disbanded in 2005 due to budget issues, but was brought back a couple of years ago. Castro said the program is a good way to appear more approachable, and that having the horses helps “bridge the gap” with residents, because the horses are recognizable citywide and part of the OPD’s history.
And he was right. Although so far most of the people at the Starbucks hadn’t joined the human officers for more than a quick greeting, Uptown and Pépé made some new friends within minutes of arriving. Customers walking around the retail park eagerly greeted the horses and began petting their manes and noses.
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