It may have looked like an early morning cocktail party—folks mingling and milling about chatting and laughing, but the hosts wore police uniforms, the venue was Chip’s and the beverage was coffee. It was the Orange Police Department’s first time participating in National Coffee with A Cop Day and if the decent turn out and friendly chatter was any indication, the event was a success.
Police Chief Robert Gagne didn’t have any expectations except that it would be informal, with no presentations or discussions. “Nothing is planned, we’re wide open,” said the Chief as town residents slowly trickled into Chips’ back room. “We want folks to come get to know us, have a conversation, talk to us about anything—even if they want to talk about football.”
Indeed Indian Hill Road resident Jill Pendergast, who also owns a business on the Post Road, decided to check out the morning coffee klatch and spent a few minutes talking sports with the Chief. “Pats or Jets?” she asked. “Jets,” Chief said. “Yankees or Mets?” she asked. “Red Sox,” he said laughing. “I just like baseball.” It was just the sort of banter Gagne envisioned when he decided to take part in the national event and one that actually highlights the supportive atmosphere Orange residents typically enjoy with their police department. “We’ve always been very community policing-oriented and we are always looking for different ways to engage the public and this was just another way to do that,” Gagne said. “We’d been thinking about participating in the event and when we saw a national day dedicated to it we decided to jump on board.” Officers Robert Amarone and John DeRubeis, and Sgt. John Aquino were also in attendance.
The timing of the event seemed appropriate in lieu of the current climate of distrust between some communities and its police departments. “It certainly doesn’t hurt to take a pro-active approach these days which we continue to do to prepare our officers to deal with today’s ‘hot’ issues,” Gagne said, outlining how the department has stepped up training efforts in de-escalation practices, impartial policing; and policing those with mental health issues as well as updating the department’s use of force policies. “Some of the training is newer and some are continuations of training we’ve always done,” he said. “We want our training to be current and effective.” Gagne describes a new, virtual simulation equipment system that Orange police share with 10 other area police departments as a “robust” tool providing more realistic “shoot/don’t shoot” training.
By the end of the hour, a combination of friends of the department, new faces and even Chips’ diners stopped in to wish the Orange police well and thank them for a job well done. “I’m happy with the turn-out and thought it went very, very well. We plan to do it again, hopefully three or four times a year,” Gagne said.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent