HOUGHTON - Police officers from several area departments sat down at the Suomi Cafe Friday morning, with an open invitation to community members to pull up a chair for a low-stress chat. The event, the second of three Coffee with a Cop events organized by the Michigan State Police Calumet Post, was an opportunity to ask questions or raise issues in a friendly environment.
Usually, said Houghton City Police Chief John Donnelly, "we meet everybody on their worst day. That's why we do this, to meet them in a positive situation."
He said the strategy of engaging residents extends to an open-door policy at the department and an effort to meet as many people as possible.
Dan Roblee/Daily Mining Gazette
Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly, Shannon Lehto and Michigan Tech Director of Public Safety and Police Services Dan Bennett chat during the Coffee with a Cop event Friday at the Suomi Restaurant.
"The best thing you can do on a shift is meet all the kids hanging around," Donnelly said. "That's what it's all about, to meet everybody when it's not a stressful situation. Then, when the world's going down, they should show the officer some trust."
Trish Stein, a Houghton resident who didn't plan on seeing the cops at the Suomi, sat down with them anyway. As a mom, she said her biggest law enforcement concern was keeping the community's children safe and out of trouble.
"I think they've done that, making sure that kids don't drink and drive and keeping kids off the street," she said. Once children become teens, "It's hard for parents without police to enforce rules."
One youth concern that also make cops' list of priorities was graduation parties over the next few weeks, mainly due to the likelihood of underage drinking and driving, said Michigan State Police Calumet Post First Lieutenant Randal Danison. In fact, Danison said, alcohol and other drugs are always at the top of police officers list of concerns.
"Drugs are the big issues, including in the schools," he said, adding that alcohol proved to be a factor in all kinds of police matters, from driving offenses and deaths to family disputes.
Donnelly said prescription drug abuse has been a significant problem in Houghton, adding that "when people are breaking into houses, or there are O.D.s, that's largely because of prescription drugs."
The Suomi's Paula Rocco stopped over to the cops' table on a break from the cash register and asked the police about a low-hanging cable that had become tangled with a semi truck outside the restaurant, and eventually cut at one end the day before.
Donnelly followed Suomi employee Keith Adams outside to check out the cable, which was secured high above to the parking deck on one end but cut and loosely attached to the restaurant at the other, to keep it from dangling over the sidewalk or Lakeshore Dr., in spots low enough to impact a car or pedestrian.
With summer upon us, Michigan State Police, Calumet Post Trooper Edward Zawada said he expected a lot more people out and about on the roads, and warned that MSP troopers are trying to prevent injuries with more seat belt enforcement zones.
Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean said his Department has already launched the Sheriff's Office boat to patrol the Portage Canal. Normally, the Sheriff's presence is enough to tone down careless or high speed boating, but deputies will also stop boats showing abnormal signs of operation and perform a preliminary breath test if warranted.
"But it's kind of hard to have them walk a straight line, with the waves," he said.
All the officers in attendance agreed that for the most part, residents of the area are supportive and easy to work with, partially because many of the cops are local and know residents from childhood.
"There's no way we could operate without the citizens' cooperation the way we do," McLean added.
Stein, said her experiences in the past with local police have been positive, and offered Kudos to Houghton City's James Destrampe, who helped her and her daughter get a stuck car out of their driveway last winter.
Danison said MSP would be holding another Coffee with a Cop event next month in Baraga County, though details have not yet been announced.