Meet & greet with cops over coffee

Photo by Karen Zautyk Officer John Fabula is one of the ‘Coffee With a Cop’ organizers.
Photo by Karen Zautyk
Officer John Fabula is one of the ‘Coffee With a Cop’ organizers.


In 2011, police in the city of Hawthorne, Calif., were looking for new ways to communicate, informally, with the citizenry they serve. The result was a program called “Coffee With a Cop” — which is exactly what it sounds like: a chance to chat with a police officer over a friendly cup of joe.

It was simple. And it has become astoundingly successful. “Coffee With a Cop” events have since been held in more than 2,000 communities across the country. It has become a national program that continues to grow.

And now, it’s Kearny’s turn to join in.

Under the auspices of Kearny PBA Local 21 and its president, Officer Thomas Pontrella, three “Coffee With a Cop” meet-ups will be held here, starting with one this Friday, Sept. 25, from 8 a.m. to noon, at Dina’s Cafe, 734 Kearny Ave.

The others are scheduled for Friday, Oct. 2, also from 8 a.m. to noon, at Arcos Pastry, 401 Kearny Ave., and on Thursday, Oct. 8, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Applebee’s on Passaic Ave.

No need to call ahead. Just show up. Sit down with one of the officers and talk. About anything that’s on your mind. While, of course, enjoying a (free) cup of coffee.

The other day, we sat down with Local 21’s vice president, Officer John Fabula, to find out more about this intriguing project, and he noted that “while we have the full support of the department and the chief,” it is strictly a PBA- sponsored program. And all the cops participating will be doing so voluntarily and on their own time.

“The idea is for us to be approachable, and for people to ask questions, to complain about something, to make suggestions,” Fabula said.

As just one example, he noted, someone may have a concern they don’t consider important enough to warrant a call to police or to make a report. But at “Coffee With a Cop,” they can simply talk about it informally.

“Or,” he added, the civilians “can just hang out and have a conversation.”

Coincidentally, the Kearny program was born from a conversation between Fabula and Officer Rich Pawlowski, Local 21’s treasurer, who were discussing ways to build a relationship with the community. Fabula said they had been initially mulling some sort of town hall-type meeting, but while researching ideas, “this program popped up.”

“’Look at that,’ we said. ‘That would be perfect!’”

As noted in a statement by the Kearny PBA: “Taking time to meet at neutral locations provides the opportunity for real conversations about issues that matter. . . . Community residents can sit down with officers and ask questions or share what’s on their mind. In a short time, citizens and police officers get to know each other and discover mutual goals for the communities they live in and serve.”

We asked Fabula if the cur rent anti-law enforcement sentiment evident in some parts of this country was a factor, but he downplayed that. “While I’m aware of the negative press and the tensions between police and communities, I don’t believe we have that issue here in Kearny,” he said. “What we want is to build on the strengths that we do have. . . . We’re looking to build some relationships.”

The national program’s website,, emphasizes such relationship-building, along with the breaking down of barriers, and how this effort benefits the cops as well as the civilians. “Coffee With a Cop,” it notes, “gives you [the officer] opportunities, outside of crisis situations, to relax and chat with residents in the community you serve.” Unfortunately, a large percentage of the civilian population has no interaction with police except in a “crisis situation.”

Fabula explained that the participating officers have no agenda regarding any issues. “Our intention is not to put anything out there,” he said. “We want to see what comes in.” In other words, what might the people be concerned about?

This will be your chance to express those concerns in an informal, friendly setting.

“We may be surprised about what comes in,” Fabula speculated.

Fabula explained that the morning programs this Friday and Oct. 2 were planned in part to attract the parents of schoolchildren, who might stop in for coffee after dropping the youngsters off for class. But kids are welcome, too. As are all local residents.

The evening event at Applebee’s can accommodate folks who work during the day.

Fabula noted that all three venues “have been great . . . they’re excited about it.”

And we think all of Kearny should be too.

(P.S. The coffee is free, but you’ll have to buy your own doughnuts.)

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