The name of the program is "Coffee with Cops," but the refreshments served aren't nearly as important as the dialogue between Antioch residents and their police officers. It's a chance every three months to learn about the city's crime statistics and new law enforcement programs, or simply to ask questions that residents want answered.
"When we started the program about four or five years ago," said police Chief Allan Cantando, "it was just the true believers who showed up -- everyone who thought we were great. Since then, we've heard from people who are critical and tell us things we could improve. That's the whole idea -- to improve what we do."
Wednesday night's session, which turned out to be "Pizza with Cops," drew about 100 residents to police headquarters. They learned violent crime decreased in 2013 (11.4 percent), auto theft went up (11 percent) and total arrests went down (5.6 percent). They learned the average response time for calls improved by 34 seconds, even though the department is understaffed, with only 81 of 102 authorized sworn officer positions filled.
Police Chief Allan Cantando heaped praise on volunteers who worked 10,809 hours -- doing clerical work, vacation house checks and writing parking citations, among other tasks -- and saved the city an estimated $251,763 for the year. But statistics were only appetizers. The question-and-answer segment was the main course.
A woman wanted to know why she was placed on hold whenever she called the nonemergency phone number. She learned that the department generally has only three or four dispatchers on duty to handle all 911 calls from Brentwood and Antioch, while also maintaining radio contact with field officers and fielding nonemergency calls. Things should improve when staffing is increased.
Another resident said the license plate was stolen from her car. Was there any chance it would be found? Many vehicles are stolen in Antioch, the chief said -- more than 60 last month -- and the stolen plate likely will be used to disguise one of those. Because she reported the theft, police are better equipped to solve both crimes.
A homeowner said she suspected drug dealing in the house next door, but because she couldn't prove it, she didn't know what to do. If you think someone is there to buy drugs, Cantando said, phone the police with a description of the car and its license number. A dispatcher can determine whether the owner has outstanding warrants or whether a car with a similar description has been involved in other crimes.
The subject matter was serious -- the crowd was shown a real-time unit monitor illustrating that calls awaiting service far outnumbered on-duty officers -- but the mood was lighthearted. Cantando peppered his remarks with humor.
When asked about the benefit of surveillance cameras, he said, "We had one, but it was stolen." Someone asked whether officers are required to stay in top physical shape. Cantando, smiling, said, "What are you trying to say, sir?"
Listeners learned that home security systems summoned officers to 5,524 false alarms last year. They heard that, yes, the city has a gang problem, but the cops are doing what they can to curtail it. And the Measure C sales tax hike will put more cops on the street, but the funds won't be available for several months.
The people who attended Wednesday got more than pizza. They got some perspective on how their police department works.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.