Friday's Coffee with a Cop – the first to be held in Aiken since January – allowed residents and law enforcement officers to cross the bridge between citizen and officer.
Residents and officers with the Aiken Department of Public Safety sipped coffee under their face masks as they discussed the role of officers in the community and residents' concerns on various topics during the event at the Lessie B. Price Aiken Senior and Youth Center.
Despite nearly a year of community tension involving the coronavirus pandemic and local protests spurred from the Black Lives Matter movement, Friday's event was peaceful, with residents and officers maintaining a level of respect toward one another as conversation and caffeine flowed smoothly.
Jim Kabel asked several officers about their operations as a multi-role division and how they connect with the public at large.
Kabel is currently attending Aiken Public Safety's Citizens Academy, a program that allows citizens to become acquainted with activities of their local police departments, and attended the event to view officers' interpersonal relationships with residents.
The experience was a plus, Kabel said, and helped ease any misconceptions he had about officers.
"The combination of the academy, plus this kind of event, helps you understand their work and appreciate their work more," he said. "You understand that they have families … and you're more comfortable being around them. Police can be intimidating in a uniform … but this helps breaks down those barriers."
Public Safety Officer Porter Smith, a lifelong Aiken resident and public safety officer of 11 years, noted that events like Coffee with a Cop are just one of the keys to maintaining a respectful relationship between officers and residents, even during times of tension.
"The community tends to support us … and we try to be very transparent with what we do and hold our officers to a high standard," Smith said.
"The most peaceful way is the best way," Smith said. "We're not here to ruin anybody's day … we're here to keep everybody safe."