LocationAlhambra , CA United States
On Wednesday night, local students, families, and other community members joined Alhambra police officers and department volunteers in a long line stretching down the sidewalk in front of the Habit Burger Grill on Main Street as the community engagement event Burger With a Cop was about to begin. Over 250 people were in and outside the restaurant restaurant property during the two hour event.
Volunteers handed out coyote whistles, shiny sticker badges and “free burger” coupons to residents while police officers answered questions posed by attendees who live, work and play in Alhambra.
Now in its second year at the Alhambra Habit location, outreach messages for Burger With a Cop on Facebook and Nextdoor stated that there would be “no agenda or speeches, just a chance to ask questions, voice concerns, and get to know the officers in your community!”
Police Chief Timothy Vu mingled in the crowd handing out “free burger” coupons and shiny badge stickers. Chief Vu sees these events, part of the Coffee With a Cop civic engagement program, as an opportunity to address questions from the public in a less formal way. Whether it be questions about traffic or crime rates, Vu was meeting attendees, hearing their concerns, and taking pictures with some who were pleased to meet the chief.
Another Alhambra Police Department representative Lieutenant Thai Seki had participated in multiple Coffee with a Cop events but was now attending his first Burger with a Cop. Seki said these events gives him an opportunity to meet with those in Alhambra he usually doesn’t get to talk to. He stated that he mostly talks to victims of crime or those committing the crimes when on the job. “Just to talk to everyday citizens feels good. It’s a good reminder that there is a lot of good people here in the neighborhood, ” he said.
- Lieutenant Thai Seki poses with an Alhambra resident holding a “We love APD” sign. Photo courtesey of Alhambra Police Department.
The most popular questions asked to him concerned traffic, the rank structure in the police department and how those in line would get their burgers. Two residents who live around the Westmont and Valley intersection, right next to Alhambra’s I-710 stub, voiced their concerns about the 710 project in general, drivers who race through red lights and the overall traffic congestion in Alhambra.
Seki believes that this on the ground outreach series works as a way to close the gap between officers and the general public, describing Burger with a Cop as an educational opportunity. “There’s always some level of misunderstanding from the public of what we do. I think it’s just an opportunity where I want to educate people. We’re not just the law enforcers, we’re not just the people that are making arrests. We’re actually the caretakers of the community and we want to make people be comfortable enough to talk to us about anything.”
As APD talked to residents in line, Alhambra city staff passed out multilingual invitations to the upcoming Alhambra General Plan Update as well as an informational pamphlet from the Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights & Measures titled “Coyotes: Our Permanent Neighbors.” Yellow coyote whistles were also being handed out to attendees as they entered the restaurant. According to a guide authored by The Humane Society of the United States, coyote whistles are used to deter them from getting close and helps “maintain coyotes’ fear of humans and deter them from neighborhood spaces such as backyards and playgrounds.”
Alvaro Gonzalez has been general manager of The Habit Burger Grill on Main St. since the location opened in 2014. This marked the second time that Burger With a Cop was held at his restaurant. When asked by APD to host the event, Gonzalez was eager to help. “I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I want to make sure that the police know that we are here to help them out and be involved as much as we can, this way we can help the community get to know their cops as well and know who’s taking care of Alhambra.”
Though the event was engaging for the officers and the Habit staff, it was also exciting for residents. Tina Yamashiro was among the many who came early to get their burger prize and voice her concerns. She looked forward to talking to Chief Vu about the top issues in her neighborhood of South Alhambra which, according to her, has had a high influx of street racing, burglary, and loitering.
Yamashiro sees events like Burger with a Cop an opportunity to invite an open communication culture among residents and the police force. “Events like this let people not be afraid to approach [police officers] in public,” said Yamashiro. She thinks sharing a coffee or even a burger with a cop reduces anxiety among the public and among neighbors.
Yamashiro also spoke about her lack of satisfaction with online community groups that report crimes in Alhambra such as Nextdoor and the newly launched Neighbors App by Ring. She feels that in-person communication goes a long way and looks forward to attending the next Burger with a Cop event in Alhambra.