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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Cuisine with Cops Creates Opportunity for Community Conversations

Cuisine with Cops Creates Opportunity for Community Conversations



During summer and fall, jungle gyms and swing sets aren’t always the most popular playscapes at Westminster parks. Instead, a matte black armored rescue vehicle outfitted with lights and sirens commands the attention of kids and adults alike. Officers with the Westminster Police Department bring the massive vehicle along with stickers, toy badges, and flyers for some show-and-tell as part of “Cuisine with Cops," a community engagement initiative started by the department in 2021. 

“It’s really fun because they get to see the human side of what we do,” said Investigator Jonnie Miller. “They can enjoy seeing what it’s like to be inside of a police car or armored rescue vehicle, crawl around, play with the buttons, see what it’s like for that little moment.” 

Cuisine with Cops began as a way for police officers to engage residents in a casual, informal manner. Since its inaugural summer, the Westminster Police Department has visited a different neighborhood park once a month to connect with community members and discuss their issues and concerns. The program has grown to include food trucks and activities in partnership with the City’s Parks, Recreation, and Libraries Department 

Miller, who grew up in a small Iowa town, said he never got to see the human side of law enforcement when he was younger. “I grew up in Wellman, Iowa, with a sheriff that would go through every once in a while. If you see him, you hide. Don’t acknowledge him,” he said. “It’s fun to see this side. I enjoy it because it gets us out there, gets us to meet young kids, their parents, even some older members of the community. It gives them the opportunity to come out and ask us questions.” 

Investigator Cheri Spottke dreamed up the idea for Cuisine with Cops during the pandemic, when police had fewer face-to-face interactions with residents. “We lost that personal touch with the community,” Spottke said. “I wanted to come up with a way to recreate that and get back out into the community when things opened back up and remind them of who we are and what we do. It was a way to get back into our community and rebuild that trust.” 

The desire to connect with the community is not limited to those who wear a badge. Professional staff at the police department also see the benefits of Cuisine with Cops. Communications Supervisor Emily Peek often sets up an informational booth about 911 services at the events and says the opportunity to put a friendly face to the voices on the other end of emergency phone calls is crucial. 

“A lot of people in society don’t think of 911 dispatchers as being in existence. A lot of people don’t think about our job until it’s time to call us,” Peek said. “You see our profession more in news and TV shows these days, which is a good thing, but we certainly get that reaction as well. I just like showing it off because people don’t often get a glimpse of what’s behind closed doors.” 

One of the key components of Cuisine with Cops is education. While engaging with children, Peek and her staff encourage kids to think about when they should call 911 and why it’s so important to know your address. For the adults, investigators often answer questions about police resources and neighborhood concerns. 

Lenny and Joyce Garcia have been attending the monthly gatherings for over a year. The Westminster residents said Cuisine with Cops is an informative and fun way to learn more about the community and the people who protect it. 

“I’ve never had any dealings with officers before that,” Lenny said. “I never saw them as bad, but this reinforced that. I learned that they’re even better than what they’re supposed to be. It says serve and protect, and that’s what they do.” 

 “You see with that communication that they care about the citizens and care about the community,” Joyce said. “That’s what you expect from police officers. This puts a face to it all.” 

Joyce and Lenny said they highly recommend all residents attend one of the free events to meet their neighbors and learn more about local law enforcement. 

 “Definitely go. Invite your neighbors too,” Joyce said with a smile. “Also, they have food trucks so you don’t have to cook, which is always nice.” 

Cuisine with Cops has ended for the 2022 season, but the Westminster Police Department looks forward to hosting another series of events beginning next spring. To learn more about Cuisine with Cops and other programs offered by WPD, visit:  https://www.westminsterco.gov/police 

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