VALPARAISO | Kathy Astrologes took time before work Friday morning to stop in at the Viking Chili Bowl to take part in the city's first Coffee with a Cop community outreach event.
"I wanted to thank them for their service," she said. "They're always there when you need them."
This supportive tone was shared by others, who met with officers as they went from table to table mingling with early morning diners.
Jack Walker, who regularly stops in for breakfast on his way to the local Autowerkes Collision Centers he owns, said he already knew several of the officers.
"I think it's a good idea," he said. "They need community involvement and people need to know who they are."
Walker believes the public too often has a negative view of police officers.
"They're just normal people," he said, "It's their job. Without it, we would have total chaos."
The Coffee with a Cop program was created by the Hawthorne Police Department in California, which had representatives in town this week training officers from Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
The Hawthorne department, located in Los Angeles County, hosts community outreach events every six weeks and has been successful in opening lines of communication with the diverse community of 100,000 residents in 6 square miles, said Hawthorne Police Capt. Keith Kauffman.
"Our community really, really likes it," he said.
The program is effective because it is carried out without the typical police barriers of squad cars and police stations, Kauffman said.
The program has spread to 150 agencies across the country, he said.
Liberty Township resident Phil Doolittle, who came to Viking Chili Bowl for what he described as the best oatmeal, credited police with helping him get back on the right track many years ago as a young person.
"It's a thankless job, typically," he said.