Coffee with the Chiefs: Officials meet people for talk, cup of joe – Valdosta Daily Times

Fog early. A few isolated thunderstorms developing this afternoon. High 87F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 30%..
Variable clouds with showers and scattered thunderstorms. Storms more numerous this evening. Low 71F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 50%.
Updated: October 7, 2021 @ 10:04 am
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Bryce Ethridge | The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta Fire Chief Brian Boutwell and Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan sponsor Coffee with the Chiefs Wednesday at Just Love Coffee Cafe. They agreed having the event is a great way to be transparent and available to the people they serve.

Bryce Ethridge | The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta Fire Chief Brian Boutwell and Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan sponsor Coffee with the Chiefs Wednesday at Just Love Coffee Cafe. They agreed having the event is a great way to be transparent and available to the people they serve.
VALDOSTA – Community members bonded with two local police departments Wednesday morning as they chatted over a cup of joe. 
The Valdosta Police and Fire Department’s Coffee with the Chiefs was hosted at Just Love Coffee Cafe while the Hahira Police Department’s Coffee with a Cop was hosted at Daylight Donuts. Coffee with a Cop was also held in the evening at Huddle House.
Coffee with the Chiefs was sparsely attended in light of the pandemic, but Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan and Fire Chief Brian Boutwell are no strangers to the event. It’s all about transparency with a personal touch, Boutwell said.
The expectation is that people come in just to get some coffee or breakfast only to see the chiefs there, Manahan said. Maybe they have questions, comments or concerns; either way, the chiefs were available.
“People are curious about different things — maybe they’ve seen something in the newspaper or in the news and they have questions about it,” Boutwell said. “We try to be in different areas of town and make ourselves available to all the citizens who have any questions.”
Hahira Police Chief Terry Davis said he believes part of his responsibility as a community leader is being visible and available to meet with the people served by his department. He said Coffee with a Cop promoted police involvement in the city.
“You gotta be proactive in the community, and that’s what we always try to do here,” he said. “You see on a lot of police cars to protect and to serve. We don’t have it on our cars but we truly believe in that, and we’re here to protect our citizens and to serve our citizens. What better way to protect and to serve them (than) being out here among them?”
Davis said events such as Coffee with a Cop encourage camaraderie between local law enforcement and community members and shows police officers are just like other people. He added the event demonstrates his department is approachable.
During the morning gathering, police said they received words of thanks from people. 
“That lifts you up in spirits and that makes you want to get out and do even more for them,” Davis said. 
Hahira Police Lt. Todd Pitchford called receiving gratitude refreshing. 
“You hear negative so much, whether it’s coming from the news or somebody stopped on the side of the highway,” he said. “It means a lot when somebody takes time out of their day and just comes up to say ‘hey, thanks, guys.'”
Pitchford said HPD has built a good rapport with the community. 
Resident Mike Sumner spoke with the officers during the event. 
He told The Valdosta Daily Times that a community outreach event such as Coffee with a Cop “is what makes small towns special.”
He said the gathering allowed HPD to be seen in a positive light. 
“It takes a person that has a badge and turns them into somebody that you can relate to,” Sumner said.
And that’s the point, Ashlyn Johnson, Valdosta public information officer, said. It is up to both sides to put effort into engaging with one another. Meet people where they are at rather than ask them to come to you, Johnson said.
“A lot of times in civic engagement, we ask citizens to come to us or come to (city) council meetings, and sometimes, that’s not always the best way to engage with (them),” she said. “Going to where people get their coffee in the morning is just a simpler way of engaging people.”

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