Sipping Coffee with a Montgomery Cop
By Richard D. Smith | Posted February 2, 2023
The decorative writing on the wall of the Paris Baguette — “happy to see you, happier to serve you” —expresses the business philosophy of this bakery and café in the Montgomery Place shopping center at 2311 Route 206, Belle Mead. But perhaps it was additionally appropriate for the 5 to 7 pm gathering there on January 26.
The event was the latest “Coffee with a Cop,” a series of meetings between local police officers and the general public. It is a nationwide initiative, which creates relaxed, informal settings for law enforcement personnel to interact with the citizens they serve and protect.
During the past two years, Montgomery Township has held just a few events at local businesses or in public parks. Now that the pandemic is in check, the police department plans to host the events more frequently.
“It’s great,” said Montgomery Patrol Officer Joe Sles. “You’re making connections with people that you might not make on a work shift because you’re busy with calls or driving in your vehicle.”
From left: Officer Carolyn LaRue chats with Kayla Blas and her mother Evelyn Blas. The Blases read in The Montgomery News that a woman officer (Ms. Larue) had just been hired, and they came to the "Coffee with a Cop" event specifically to meet her. Photo by Richard D. Smith.
The Montgomery Township Police are committed to "building better relationships with our community,” according to Police Director Silvio Bet. A 29-year veteran of the force, Capt Bet said all four divisions of the department — Administrative, Patrol, Traffic, and Detective — were represented among the attendees. A mix of some 40 police officers, citizens, and elected officials enjoyed purchases of coffee, tea, and other drinks while often succumbing to the sweet temptations of the café’s freshly-baked buns, rolls, and desserts.
Perhaps typifying the residents for whom “Coffee with a Cop” is intended were Evelyn Blas and her daughter Kayla. They’d read in The Montgomery News that a new female officer had been sworn in to the force – and they wanted to meet her.
And so, Patrol Officer Carolyn LaRue and the Blases were found in intensive but comfortable conversation. “With a lot of police, it is intimidating, said Mrs. Blas (who, as a U.S. Navy veteran, has herself spent much time in uniform). “But this is going great.”
The Montgomery Police Department has two women: LaRue and Joelle Bridgewater, both pictured above in uniform. Photo by Richard D. Smith.
The Blases were particularly interested in Officer LaRue’s education “and why she became a law enforcement officer.”
For her part, Officer LaRue typifies the career professionalism of the newest generation of law enforcement officers. In addition to her bachelor's degree in psychology with minor in criminology from Rutgers, she has just received her master's degree from the Criminal Justice program of St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Another new Montgomery female officer, Joelle Bridgewater, holds a Rutgers bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a sociology minor.
Officer LaRue says, “I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do since I was little. I like doing community policing.”
She agreed with Evelyn Blas that “Coffee with a Cop” mixers “makes us less intimidating, breaking the barriers. We’re cops, but we’re also compassionate.’"
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Judging by the Montgomery elected officials in attendance — including Mayor Devra Keenan, Deputy Mayor Neena Singh, and Borough Council Members Vincent Barragan and Patricia Todd — these events also facilitate communication and good will between the police department and the township’s administration.
“Coffee with a Cop is a great initiative for all of us to meet,“ said Deputy Mayor Singh. “It helps us all connect.”
From left: Montgomery Township Deputy Mayor Neena Singh with Kelly Bet, the first lady of the Montgomery Township Police Department. Photo courtesy of Montgomery Township.
Montgomery elected officials at the event included former Deputy Mayor Shelly L. Bell, who is now assistant to the Somerset County Administrator. Bell – who praises Montgomery’s “phenomenal police department” – initiated the first local “Coffee with a Cop” two years ago with then-police director James M. Gill.
“We’re very proud of everything [the Montgomery police] are doing for us,” Mayor Keenan agreed. “We’re trying to have more and more of these events.” Gatherings will be held at least four times a year, more often if possible, at different businesses throughout the township.
The Montgomery police, added Mayor Keenan, are “eager to speak to community groups” in general. She hopes that officers will be invited to speak at schools within the township and that some students will become interested in law enforcement careers.
But most of all, Mayor Keenan summarized with a smile, ”the time to meet the police is when you don’t need them!”
Above: Top: Officer Tim Giacccone (Traffic Bureau), Committeeman Vincent Barragan, Deputy Mayor Neena Singh, Committeewoman Patricia Todd, Mayor Devra Keenan, and Officer Sean Devlin (Administrative Division). Middle: Director Capt Silvio Bet and former Montgomery Deputy Mayor Shelly L. Bell. Bottom: Montgomery police at Paris Baguette.