The regulars were there, but the north McDonald’s, 3406 Vine, saw some extra faces for the morning coffee and conversation Thursday morning.
Several officers from the Hays Police Department were at the store for about an hour and a half for Coffee with a Cop, part of a national movement to bring police officers and their communities closer together. Free coffee was offered to all at the restaurant during the event.
“It’s an opportunity for our customers and the whole community to visit local law enforcement in a non-threatening environment,” said Deana Rupp, marketing director for McDonald’s of Hays, Russell and WaKeeney
“Over a cup of coffee, everything’s innocent and relaxed. They can talk to the them about things that are on their mind or something they’re concerned about that happens in their neighborhood,” she said.
This was the first time the fast-food franchise has participated in the event, a movement that started in 2011 in Hawthorne, Calif.
The officers on the scene said it was beneficial to meet with people in the community outside the type of interactions their jobs normally call for such as traffic violations, vehicle crashes or disturbances.
“Unfortunately, the majority of our contacts, just from the nature of our jobs, are negative,” said HPD Investigator Jeff Ridgway.
He said that’s especially true for his duties.
“I no longer do first response as much, but at the same time, there’s still some truth to the fact that if I’m coming in, it’s an even worse deal. I might be dealing with victims or the suspects. Maybe a family member just got taken to jail,” he said.
“This is definitely a good opportunity even for investigators to be seen for just more than what we normally do on the job,” he said.
Officer Evan Cronn agreed, and said he makes an effort while on patrol to meet with people in the community. He’s been with HPD for five and a half years.
“When we have snowstorms like this, I like to go out and if I see someone scraping their window or something like that, I’ll get out and help them. Or in the middle of summer if I see someone working in their yard, I’ll get out with them and get them a bottle of water and talk with them for a little bit,” he said.
“I want our community to feel like we are there for them,” Cronn said.
And while Wednesday night’s incident at Walmart, 4301 Vine, where a firearm was accidentally discharged was a topic, most of the conversation was just people getting to know one another.
“We just more or less had a lot of fun — where are you from, what are you doing and this and that,” said Pat Weigel, 83, a regular of the McDonald’s coffee crowd.
Among those stopping by were some of HPD’s youngest fans. Paxton Weber, 5, wore his SWAT uniform and handed out challenge coins showing St. Michael, the patron saint of police officers.
“He woke up this morning and said ‘I have to get dressed in my cop gear so they know I’m a cop because I’m their biggest fan,’” Paxton’s mother, Bre Weber, said.
Being a cop runs in the family, as both of Paxton’s grandfathers are in law enforcement.
“Anything cop-related we’re there,” dad Cory Weber said.
The couple’s youngest, daughter Rowan, 7 months, accompanied them, but daughter Ryland, 8, had to be in school.
“She loves her cops,” Bre said of her oldest child.
After the 2016 shooting in Dallas that killed five officers and injured nine others, it was Ryland who wanted to do something to honor them, Bre said.
“She was the one that said ‘We need to do something for the po-pos.’ That’s when we started ordering the challenge coins and handing them out,” she said.
Mary Jeffrey brought her grandson, Odin, 4, to the event. He got a special treat when Officer Austin Savage took him outside to take a look at his patrol vehicle.
He sat Odin in the driver’s seat and showed him how to turn on the lights and sirens and what all the controls did. Odin even got a view of the back seat of the vehicle.
“Do you know we have radars in the back so we can see how fast people are going?” Savage said, pointing at the device in the back of the SUV.
“Oh, I see one back there,” Odin said, pointing, as his grandmother took pictures with her phone.
“When we go to the mall, he’s always saying ‘I hope we see some cop cars,’” she said.
“Cop cars are cool,” Odin said.
“That was how I got started,” said Savage, who’s been with HPD for a year and a half. “I got to see the inside of a cop car.
“It’s neat to see it going from my memories to doing it for him,” he said.