A weekly Zoom meeting offers residents an opportunity to chat with Sgt. Joe Eickman, interim director of public safety at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
Eickman hosts a "Coffee with a Cop" session every Thursday from 9 to 10 a.m. There’s currently no agenda and no talking points. Just a cup of coffee and an open ear.
"I cut my teeth in policing with the notion of community policing. Going through the Fond du Lac program, it was always ingrained in us that we’re not above the community. We’re part of it," Eickman said. "I really want to remind the community that we are community members as well."
The first session March 18 turned into a friendly conversation with someone Eickman knew from the campus. When another person joined in with a question near the end of the session, he stayed on an extra 20 minutes to answer it.
The Thursday, March 25, event included discussion about the vaccine clinic slated to open at Wessman Arena in mid-April, Eickman’s availability to give on-campus safety classes for active shooter situations, and the new parking system.
“The beginning of February we got rid of our parking meters. Now we have an app — the ParkMobile app,” Eickman said. “It’s our solution for short-term parking that is a little more with the times than finding quarters to plug into the meter.”
The cost to park is $1 per hour, with an additional 35-cent convenience fee for the vendor, ParkMobile. Parking isn’t site-specific, like in Duluth lots. Visitors just pay to park in a certain area or lot on campus. They can use their cellphone and a credit card to pay and ParkMobile will alert them via text when they’re running low on minutes.
“Most of our students are of the digital age, so they all love it,” Eickman said. “We’ve heard just a relatively few complaints — people who don’t have a smartphone or don’t have a credit card."
The idea to offer the sessions came after Eickman was asked to speak about use of force at an event for the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Department following the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha. Expecting to get negative feedback for explaining the laws and policies that police officers have to follow in such situations, Eickman instead got words of thanks.
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“After that, I kind of thought of this as a platform where, if somebody had questions, I am more than happy to explain things in terms people can understand," Eickman said. "I’m not hiding behind my badge or anything like that. I’m very open to explain what our policies are, what law is, what federal law mandates that we can do, what case law has said we are allowed or not allowed to do.
"And I’m very happy to explain that to people,” Eickman said. “I feel like by being transparent, it’s going to open up a dialogue. It can be a two-way street, (and) hopefully rebuild some of the trust that the police have lost in recent years.”
He's also hoping some of the department's new officers, who were hired in December, will make guest appearances.
"A lot of people still have not met all of our officers due to COVID protocols," Eickman said.
The "Coffee with a Cop" initiative dates back to 2011. It's used to build relationships between law enforcement officers and residents, one cup at a time. The Superior Police Department held "Coffee with a Cop" sessions throughout the city for several years, spearheaded by now-retired Community Policing Officer Bonnie Beste.
Eickman hopes to bring his coffee to the Yellowjacket Union for face-to-face conversations once COVID protocol eases. Until then, he's available to chat every Thursday through Zoom.
"As long as I get people to come to sessions, I’ll keep going. If I get some sessions where nobody shows up, and it’s just me and my coffee, I’ll probably have to revisit shutting it down for a little while and bringing it back at a later date," he said.
Access "Coffee with a Cop" Zoom sessions at https://bit.ly/3sAENib.