Austin Police Department Sergeant Carlos Dominguez was born in the small West Texas town of Marfa, where everybody knew everybody. He said growing up in Marfa, “the sheriff was just one of us.”
When he moved to Austin, Dominguez realized law enforcement operated a little differently, but last Friday, Dominguez and other police officers from APD and the University of Texas Police Department met at the Starbucks on 24th Street to speak with community members at a Coffee with a Cop event, where Dominguez said he wanted to engage with people and answer questions from the community.
“I like it because it’s mostly young people over here,” Dominguez said. “We don’t often times get to just sit around and chat with them. Older people sometimes do forget what it felt like to be in their 20s or late teens and some of the stresses and pressures you feel at that age.”
UTPD organized the event after they received positive feedback on their first Coffee with a Cop event in August. Through talking with the community, UTPD Corporal Michael Murphy said the police are better able to understand the community’s needs and provide useful information.
“Everyone has a little different piece of the puzzle,” Murphy said. “I’m less interested in asking questions, I want people to come to me with their concerns.”
Two UTPD officers came to Murphy late this summer with the idea for Coffee with a Cop, and Murphy said he helped them move the idea forward.
“It was something that we hadn’t really done before,” Murphy said. “There was a little bit of trepidation, but the first time was an absolute success. I’m hoping that it will grow into other events, too.”
Murphy said many people don’t understand the day-to-day operations of a police department.
“It’s just simply a matter of explaining police operations, which are often very opaque to the community, and that’s why we’re here,” Murphy said. “They don’t understand the flow of why we do what we do.”
One instance of complaints and misunderstanding comes at the intersection of 24th and Speedway, where Murphy said bicyclists often run stop signs and receive tickets.
“It’s bedlam there,” Murphy said. “Today I was in the intersection in a black and white police car, and someone rode through right in front of me. People will still run it, and that’s so dangerous.”
UT alumna Ana Cruz volunteered for the police department as a student and stopped by the Coffee with a Cop event to socialize with police and students.
“At the end of the day, that visibility increases the approachability,” Cruz said. “When somebody is in a police car, it’s a little more intimidating to knock on the window and ask a question.”
Cruz said she appreciates the open-mindedness of the police department.
“I’m really glad they’re doing this, especially when there’s such a particular climate right now with law enforcement,” Cruz said. “I personally love the police department at UT, but there’s always room to be critical, which is why they’re so willing to sit down and talk to people about their concerns.”
Dominguez said he hopes students continue a dialogue with police even after the event.
“We don’t want to be a stranger to you,” Dominguez said. “We just want to be one big happy family. We know stuff’s going to happen, but we try to keep a lid on it.”