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Champaign police are finding new ways to engage with community youth

Champaign Chief of Police, Timothy T. Tyler, making bracelets with a kid at the "Ice Pops With Cops" event at Hedge Pop! Park on June 6th.

CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign Police Department began gathering in coffee shops about six years ago for their “Coffee with a Cop” program. This month, they launched a new youth-geared program – “Ice Pops with Cops.”

Their most recent “Coffee With A Cop” event was June 6th at the Starbucks on S. Neil St. in Champaign. 

That same day they headed over to Hedge Pop! Park for the kid version.

“It’s Coffee With A Cop, but who needs coffee at 3pm,” said Joe Lamberson, assistant to the police chief for community services. 

The national “Coffee With A Cop” program initially began in Hawthorne, California during 2011. It soon spread across the nation and even the world. 

“Coffee With a Cop” in India. Provided by Chris Cognac

The organization was co-founded by now-retired Sergeant Chris Cognac. He says at first Coffee with a Cop didn’t go so well.

“We sat down at a table with a pot of coffee expecting people to come talk to us and nobody did. So then we decided we needed to make a better approach,” said Cognac.

Cognac says that’s when he and his fellow officers went up to people themselves to get the ball rolling. 

However, Covid did slow down program operations not only around the world, but in Champaign as well – until last year. 

“Last year, you know, we hit the ground running, and we did four of these in 2022,” said Joe Lamberson, assistant to the police chief for community services. “We’ve done two so far in 2023.”

The program is meant to help officers better understand and address community concerns. 

“They grab a cup of coffee and take some time out of their day to visit with us. We’ll learn a little bit from them, and hopefully, they’ll learn a little bit from us,” said Geoffry Coon, deputy chief of operational support for CPD.

Coon said that sometimes people come with concerns. Other times they don’t. 

“It’s very non-confrontational, it’s very relaxed. Everybody likes their cup of coffee in the morning and starting their day off right,” said Coon.

He said that is also the goal for the kids event. 

“If you can develop that relationship and that rapport, especially with the youth and develop that trust, and then maybe they will come to you,” said Coon.

Ten-year-old Kiara Mathes getting an ice cream at the “Ice Pops With Cps” events at Hedge Pop! Park on June 6th.

Sixteen-year-old Elexis Mathes said although she hadn’t spoken much with the officers, the event makes her feel more comfortable in their presence. 

“I like that they brought the community out and brought the kids out all together and they’re having fun,” Elexis said.

But Elexis’ mother, Shawna, says there’s more to it than that. She says police events in the area have made her community safer. 

“There’s a lot of violence,” said Shawna. “When I moved here, there was a lot. I can admit though since they’ve done this, it has calmed down a lot.”

Although this was the first “Ice Pops With Cops” event, CPD and other city organizations have held several events at the park.

“Sometimes it’s just showing up with an ice chest full of popsicles and seeing if we can have a little fun,” said Lamberson.

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