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Public, police mingle over coffee
Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith (center), Ceres Police Lt. Rick Collins (right) and citizen Leonard Shepherd (left) listen to a Ceres residents concerns about crime in his neighborhood. The conversation took place during yesterdays Coffee With A Cop event held at the McDonalds restaurant at Mitchell and Hatch roads. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Chief Brent Smith was the first uniform in line at McDonald's at the outset of the Coffee With A Cop event Tuesday morning.

"I might be the only one who shows up," he said, picking up his tray with a breakfast sandwich and a cup of mocha. He chuckled because he knew the forces were on their way for the two-hour public interaction session.

In moments the recently remodeled McDonald's on Mitchell Road was swarming with uniforms. Among those who attended were sergeants Danny Vierra, Darren Venn and James Yandell, lieutenants Chris Perry and Rick Collins, crime analyst Alex Warner, motorcycle patrolman Keith Kitcher and code enforcement officer Frank Alvarez.

Smith, who became police chief officially in February, spoke about some additional changes he is bringing to the department. Smith said his department has created a new Ceres Neighborhood Enhancement Team as a strengthened code enforcement program to address "quality of life issues" in Ceres. Sgt. Joe Wren is in charge of the new unit, which replaces the former code enforcement program under Fire Chief Bryan Nicholes. Wren just attended a week of training on code enforcement issues, said Chief Smith.

The unit will be addressing the abatement of graffiti and abandoned vehicles, as well as barnyard animals that are illegally kept in residential areas. Clean-up of blighted properties and rights of way will also be a priority of Sgt. Wren.

Smith said the city is looking at a number of ordinance changes as well as changes to the way it does business to tackle problems of blight. For example, he said the city will be working to get older commercial areas up to modern standards of enclosed trash receptacles. He said that while dumpster diving is illegal, individuals still do it and scatter trash, which ends up blowing away and filling lots and adding to community eyesores.

"Our goal will be to clean up the city and create an environment that brings in new business to Ceres," said Smith.

Most of those who showed up for the coffee are established supporters of the department. Some attended to share concerns about crime in their part of Ceres. One man spoke for his neighborhood, concerned about the appearance of condom wrappers and beer bottles left in the street at night. He was told to report such problems to police for extra patrols.

The department initiated its Coffee With a Cop program in 2013.

Ceres police decided to start staging the coffee events as a way to allow community members to ask questions, share concerns, learn more about Ceres Police Department's work in Ceres neighborhoods, and get to know officers. The program has been offered in over 175 other cities because it removes the physical barriers and crisis situations that routinely define interactions between law enforcement officials and community members. The intent is to allow the informal contact increase trust in police officers as individuals.

Coffee with a Cop is a national initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Similar events are being held across the country, as local police departments strive to make lasting connections with the communities they serve.
The event has been hosted at other restaurants, including Farmer Boys, the McDonald's at Whitmore Avenue and Morgan Road, and Supermom's Frozen Yogurt.