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Chief Vander Veen puts emphasis on community policing

Police and the public mingled, asked questions and offered comments during the city’s inaugural Coffee with a Cop event on Wednesday afternoon.

The gathering, which was held on the large patio in front of Starbucks on Foothill and Claremont boulevards, was an opportunity for the public to interact with the officers who patrol their streets. About 10 officers, including the Claremont Police Department’s chief drug-sniffer Dodger, were on hand to greet the citizens.

Chief Shelly Vander Veen was the star of the show, fielding questions, comments and pledges of support from many Claremonters from all walks of life. At the coffee’s peak, about 40 residents were on the Starbucks patio.

“I’m completely overwhelmed,” Chief Vander Veen said. “And clearly it shows that the community was yearning to have something like this where they could meet and talk to the officers and ask questions in an informal setting.”

The meeting was promoted as a no-frills, no agenda,  free-form event, where citizens could socialize with officers and talk to them about anything.

The city’s increase in property crimes was a big topic on the minds of many Claremonters in attendance, but other, less pressing issues were also discussed. One resident, Jay Cordes, said he hoped to talk to the chief about a turning arrow on Mountain Avenue and whether or not he would get a ticket for going straight in that lane.

Chief Vander Veen had just come from serving on a panel at the University of Southern California, where she and seven other female police chiefs in Los Angeles County gave career advice and words of encouragement to a room full of female police officers.

“It’s not really my thing to get out and talk in font of the public, or even tout anything I’ve done, but at some point I had to recognize I’m doing it for them,” she said.

The event is a part of the chief’s plan to revamp the department’s commitment to community policing, as well as allowing residents the chance to let their guard down, so to speak, and talk freely with a police officer.

“This is a part of that whole concept of just reaching out to the community and developing stronger bonds with the police officers and the community,” Chief Vander Veen said. “So when they see an officer on the street or on a call, they can approach that officer and recognize that they’re just human beings with a job to do.”

Another element to that ethos is the “Caring Caddies” program, which saw the department team up with the human services department to equip officers with care packages for transients and other Claremonters in need during bad weather.

The “caddies” are Ziploc bags containing essentials such as socks, toiletries, reusable water bottles, gloves, granola bars and lip balm. Chief Vander Veen said several of these packages can be stored inside each cop car.

“If they come across a transient in need, or anybody in need, they have those that they can provide to the individual,” she said.

Claremont Police Commissioner Edgar Reece, standing behind a folding table packed with badge stickers and cards with the city’s ubiquitous “see something, say something” mantra, said the idea of the meet-and-greet was “officer driven.”

“The officers seem to enjoy the connection to the community outside of the call to service,” Mr. Reece said.

Chief Vander Veen said based on the success of this event, the department plans to hold one similar event per quarter at different spots in the city.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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