Peace And Pride: Fayetteville Police Build Community One Cup Of Coffee At A Time

Sep 26, 2016

Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock chats with Renee Wilson at one of his last 'Coffee with a Cop' events.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Editor's note:  This story is part of an occasional series on what area community leaders and residents are doing to balance "peace and pride" in their neighborhoods.

Fayetteville's outgoing police chief has spent much of his tenure drinking coffee.

“It just gives us an opportunity to visit with you in a different manner," Harold Medlock said to a group of people gathered at the Smith Chapel Free Will Baptist Church for one of his favorite events, Coffee with a Cop.

Medlock is on the last week of the job as the city's top cop. Throughout his tenure, he's participated in the Coffee with a Cop gatherings as a part of his strategy to build community understanding and transparency, especially as deadly police shootings of black men tear other cities apart.

At a recent event, Medlock acted like he was at home, shaking hands and drinking coffee. This was his 14th Coffee with a Cop event. They're usually at a fast food restaurant, like Bojangles'.

"Very relaxed and the coffee’s good and the sweets are good and if you got donuts or sweet rolls down there you know the cops are going to be here," said Medlock, to much laughter.

Smart. Chief Medlock got in the cops and donuts joke, first.

The fellowship hall was packed. There were police officers everywhere and dozens of members from Smith Chapel and the neighborhood.

Emma Hagans sipped on a cup coffee, full of a lot of cream and sugar like she likes it. Hagans said she really didn't have a complaint for the chief. She wanted to thank him for the good job he's been doing.

Emma Hagans and Kelly Whitted sip coffee at 'Coffee with a Cop' at Smith Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Most of the people at this Coffee with a Cop are African American. Chief Medlock is white. He has been Fayetteville's police chief for only three and a half years, after spending most of his career with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department. Many of the people at the event praised him for his community policing philosophy and for building relationships.

Renee Wilson is not a member of Smith Chapel, but stopped by with her family to shake Chief Medlock's hand and meet other officers.

"I support what they’re doing, we need them and they need us," said Wilson.

Medlock gets credit for helping to de-escalate a protest march in Fayetteville a few months after the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

"I'd rather have conversations than confrontations, and so we’re just building on that," said Medlock.

Shortly after Medlock arrived in Fayetteville, he invited the Department of Justice in to review his staff of 433 officers, and look at everything from traffic stops to use of deadly force. The list to improve his department was long. Chief Medlock brought in de-escalation training, assigned officers to sectors and started Coffee with a Cop.

"Because a lot of folks that have concerns, typically they are not going to come to my office, they may not come to a community watch meeting, but they would come to one of these," said Medlock.

The Reverend Alfonza McAllister is pastor of Smith Chapel Free Will Baptist Church and was glad to host the recent gathering.

"I love his Christian stance on issues," said Rev. McAllister about Medlock. "One thing he asked of us in the church is that we would always pray for his officers, not necessarily when the blue lights come on there behind us, but if we would pray for them ahead of time."

And on this day, that's what Reverend McAllister did.

“And we ask God that you will give our officers wisdom, as they encounter situations God," said McAllister, as he prayed for Fayetteville’s finest and for everybody else. "When they are confronted with situations and have to make a split decision, guide them Lord to make the right decision. And father we'll give you the praise for that. In Jesus' name we pray, and we all shout it together, Amen."