University police and Westwood community members said they wanted to create a more open dialogue with each other at an event Thursday.
Coffee with a Cop, hosted by university police and Starbucks, provided the Westwood community with a chance to talk to police officers outside of law enforcement situations over coffee and donuts. Participants expressed their concerns about safety within the neighborhood and asked the officers questions about their experiences onthe job.
UCPD Lt. Kevin Kilgore said he was inspired to start Coffee with a Cop in Westwood to give the community an informal way to speak directly with officers.
“Officers love donuts, so we thought it might be fun to play with that. Part of the mission statement with UCPD is to have a strong partnership with the community,” Kilgore said. “We want to have thoughtful, meaningful and effective dialogue so we can see both sides.”
Paul Wells was one of the UCPD officers at the meet and greet. Wells, who has been in law enforcement since the age of 21, said he has attended multiple community events to engage with the public.
Wells’ first community event was in 2017, two days after a major active shooting was televised. Wells said university police felt a lot of community support at that time.
“Students were thanking us,” Wells said. “You could feel the fear in the air and they said the police presence made a difference.”
He added he thinks people often generalize the misconduct of a small number of officers to all police.
“There’s a common misconception that all officers are ‘bad,’” Wells said. “There are bad apples always, but the majority of us are not that way.”
Wells said he enjoys events like these because they offer an opportunity to talk to people.
“My favorite part about this job is talking to people,” Wells said. “It shows that we are part of the community.”
Kilgore said serving UCLA is a unique experience because of the diverse campus population.
“UCLA is the most diverse place I’ve ever worked in,” Kilgore said. “There is a rich community of diversity so we can better educate ourselves.”
Kylo, a 3-year-old German shepherd and UCPD’s sole dog for their K-9 unit, was also present at the event. Officer Tiffanie Hand, who started the K-9 program in 2017, is Kylo’s handler. UCPD plans on adding more dogs to their roster in the upcoming years, Hand said.
Donna Brown, a member of Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group, said she wanted to speak with police about gun control after her son, Cliff, was murdered.
“Events like this are so important, especially for homicide cases, missing persons, unsolved or cold cases,” she said. “It’s about getting to know the officers, being able to relate to them.”
Wells said like any profession, being a police officer offers daily challenges but also impactful experiences.
“The most challenging aspect about being an officer is learning not to take work home with you,” Wells said. “I care about people, so it can be hard.”
Wells said one of his proudest moments as a UCPD officer was when he and another officer unexpectedly helped save a baby’s life in response to what was initially a burglary alarm in 2016.
“My job is to stop crime and help people out,” Wells said.
Kelly Mustapha-Kellett, a manager at Starbucks in Westwood, said she was excited about the turnout of the event. She said she plans to host Coffee with a Cop every two months at Starbucks to provide UCLA students and the Westwood community with a way to express their concerns with UCPD.
“We are using the environment as it’s meant to be used – as a shared space for everyone,” Mustapha-Kellett said.
Wells said UCPD plans to host more Coffee with a Cop events in April on campus and on the Hill.