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'We know the community is really supportive of us, and it's a way to thank them'

Officer Paul Valesano hands out drinks at the Coffee with a Cop event at the Meadows Road Starbucks. Last December, shortly after the Meadows Road Starbucks hosted a Coffee with a Cop event as part of the Lake Oswego Police Department's #youandblue campaign, Store Manager Kara Ilg was approached by one of her employees.

"You should be really proud of me," the employee told Ilg.

Confused, Ilg replied that she was always proud of the woman — who she described as one of the brightest and most personable employees at the store. But it soon became clear what

the employee was trying to convey.

Coffee with a Cop, like all of the #youandblue events, provides an opportunity for community members and the police to connect on a personal basis within what Sgt. Jay Weitman calls a "nonconfrontational setting."

And that last part is crucial in explaining why this employee was so pleased with her experience that day.

"She had grown up with parents who did not make some great choices," Ilg said. "And so her view of police officers left her always being a little apprehensive about it — being around them.

"She said, 'That was kind of wiped out today. These are just guys. And they're really nice guys.'"

It was a moment that LOPD hopes to replicate — many times over — as the #youandblue campaign kicks off its fourth year later this month at the Lake Oswego Tree Lighting ceremony. Described as "an effort to change the conversation about law enforcement in today's world," #youandblue offers community members an opportunity to connect with officers — having a casual conversation, asking questions, even taking a selfie and posting it on social media with the hashtag — in an array of welcoming settings.

After the Tree Lighting, #youandblue will also take place at the Seasons of Soul Holiday Concert Dec. 8, during the Tinseltown Trolley rides Dec. 13-15 and as part of special one-off events like Coffee with a Cop (which returns to the Meadows Starbucks Dec. 5) and Shop with a Cop hosted by the Clackamas County Peace Officers' Benevolent Foundation Dec. 7.

"This was born out of a deep desire to engage with our community," said Weitman, who partnered with Traffic Lt. Clayton Simon to start #youandblue in 2016. "We know the community is really supportive of us, and it's a way to thank them." Officer Bryan McMahon poses with K9 Chase at last year's Coffee with a Cop.

"We do a lot of stuff in the community as it is," Police Chief Dale Jorgensen said. "We're at the farmers market, we do the Fourth of July and even at the Tree Lighting, we play a big part. But we'd always been there as sort of a support function, making sure people get across the street safe ... (it's been) more in a job-related relationship, and we wanted more of a community piece to it."

Weitman and Jorgensen noted that the presence of LOPD's K9 unit is always a draw, and community members also enjoy taking selfies with officers wearing blue Santa hats.

And then there are the Coffee with a Cop and Shop with a Cop events, which take place during the same week and now share a distinct connection thanks to Ilg. So impressed was Ilg during last year's Coffee with a Cop that she immediately asked how she might be able to support Shop with a Cop (which pairs officers from a wide array of jurisdictions, mostly in Clackamas County, with at-risk youth to go Christmas shopping).

It was too late for Ilg to help with the 2018 Shop with a Cop, but she revisited the idea this past September while attending a leadership conference in Chicago with 12,000 other Starbucks managers.

"We were asked if we would take the time — and some of us did, some of us didn't — to nominate an organization in our neighborhoods or communities that we would like to see a grant go to," Ilg said. "So I did that."

Four grants of $2,500 were handed out at that conference, and when Ilg's name wasn't called she simply continued with her other efforts to support Shop with a Cop — namely, placing signs and donation envelopes at Starbucks locations across the county. COURTESY PHOTOS - LOPD Officer Brock Rosenthal shops with a child during the Shop with a Cop event last year.

Then, in October, she received a $1,500 check from the Starbucks Foundation. That figure just happened to be the exact amount needed to help fund 150 shoppers at the 2019 Shop with a Cop event.

"It totally shocked me," Ilg said. "I didn't think they were still (giving out grants)."

Shop with a Cop, which is in its 13th year, will take place Dec. 7 at the Happy Valley Walmart. And Ilg's Starbucks on Meadows Road will once again host Coffee with a Cop from noon-2 p.m. Dec. 5.

"People get exposed to a lot of negative messages about law enforcement," Weitman said. "We're just trying to counter that with some positive energy, just to get folks to understand that we're not just out here as an occupying force — we're part of the community."

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- #youandblue campaign to celebrate LOPD's relationship with community

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