‘Community Cafe’ offers public a chance for casual talk with police officers

WYOMING — Together they sat at a table inside of Hall’s Family Restaurant on Wednesday morning.

Five police officers just waiting for members of the community to pull up a chair, pour a cup of coffee and share a conversation.

Capt. Joshua Bushweller, Master Cpl. Gary Fournier and Community Outreach Officer Cpl. Heather Imhof of the Delaware State Police joined town of Wyoming Police Chief Martin Willey and Lt. Chuck Groce at the iconic restaurant that sits just to the west of the railroad tracks in Wyoming.

It marked the Delaware State Police’s second “Community Café” in Kent County. These are events where police reach out to communicate casually with members of the communities they serve.

Capt. Bushweller, Troop 3 commander, noted a widening gap in trust seems to be taking place between law enforcement officers and members of the public — and what can be done to stop it.

Delaware State Police Capt. Joshua Bushweller, center, talks with , from left, Don Tyndall, Pat Dyer and Arley Cooper during Community Cafe at Halls Family Resturant in Wyoming on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“A couple of years ago we did focus groups up and down the state in Kent, Sussex and New Castle counties to try to meet with residents to talk about some of the things they’d like to see from the state police, in addition to the traditional law enforcement,” he said. “One of the things was to have more community outreach and more community service.

“Through those measures it was learned and discussed that people oftentimes didn’t want to come to the police station, or come to a troop or come to a barracks to discuss issues.

“They were either intimidated or they felt uncomfortable … or they were members of the community that, quite frankly, don’t want to be seen going into a police station for confidentiality or for different reasons.”

Capt. Bushweller added, “It was brought up and discussed how about we come out to a non-traditional setting with people, and they thought that was a great idea.”

It’s certainly not idle chit-chat. The officers take the information and concerns they receive and bring the issues back to their troop commander, who then relay it to all of the troopers and people who work with the state police.

From left, Capt. Joshua Bushweller and Cpl. Heather Imhof, of the Delaware State Police, Police Chief Martin Willey and Lt. Chuck Groce, of the Town of Wyoming Police, and Delaware State Police Master Cpl. Gary Fournier teamed up for a Community Cafe at Hall’s Family Restaurant in Wyoming on Wednesday morning. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

The Community Café at Hall’s Family Restaurant wasn’t heavily attended, but the officers did say it accomplished exactly what they had set out to do — meet a different segment of the population.

The first Community Café took place last September at the McDonald’s on Del. 10. It attracted around 15 to 20 people with several dozen more customers stopping by to chat with the officers.

“You have to change your spots a little bit and try to find out where else can you reach and find out concerns from the public,” Master Cpl. Fournier said.
“Obviously, the crowd is different here than from the first place and that’s what you’re looking for — to mix it up a little bit and find out what other people’s needs are in different communities.”

Capt. Bushweller said he enjoys getting the opportunity to reach out and engage with the public, as do most of the officers.

“I’m happy to say that the majority of the stuff is just people thanking us for what we do,” he said. “However, at the one on Route 10 a couple of issues were brought up, some community-related issues as far as some drug-related crimes in the General’s Greene community, which is just right behind the Route 10 McDonald’s, and some general nuisance-type crime.

“Then, overall, we just discuss the crime picture in Kent County. What are the drivers of crime and what are some of the things that we can do ourselves without becoming a victim of crime?”

Every state police troop throughout the state is participating in the Community Café initiative, with quarterly events scheduled for each county.

Wyoming’s Lt. Groce, a former state trooper, was happy that the state police are also reaching out to local municipalities to get them involved in the community get-togethers as well.

“Actually, I think it’s a great thing,” he said. “I like the community outreach and with a large organization like the state police they have the opportunity to impact a large percentage of the community with these types of functions.”

He said he hopes members of the community take advantage of the Community Café because it’s not only informational, it can also help the police do their jobs better.

“I hope that the public will engage with them and come out and attend these types of functions and give feedback that’s very vital for the commander for making decisions on how to direct his patrols and everything,” Lt. Groce said.

“It’s a great idea, it’s just a matter of hoping the public will catch on and participate and come out and give them honest feedback so they know how to better serve the public.”

Master Cpl. Fournier wouldn’t mind having a future event with children in a community in Kent County. That, he said, might be one of the most important audiences to reach.

“You reach them early so that later in life those same kids will be able to come up as adults and talk to a police officer and say, “Listen, I’m having these sorts of problems. Can we talk about this? What can we do about it?,” he said.

It’s all about having a relaxed conversation and establishing an open line of communication, which is what the Community Café is set to achieve.

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