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Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher, right, talks with community members Friday evening as they meet with police officers for the department's first "Coffee with a Cop' event at Goodman Expert Coffee Roasters in Warehouse Row. Community members clockwise from left are, Chanet Faber, Ian Goodman, Jeremy Faber, Fletcher and Dawn Coulter, left front center.
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Sharon Loving, right, talks with Chattanooga police Sgt. Michael Joiner, left, and Officer Les Corbin on Friday as community members met with police officers for the department's first "Coffee with a Cop' event at Goodman Expert Coffee Roasters in Warehouse Row.

A half-dozen blue uniforms dotted the coffee shop Friday afternoon as officers met with residents to talk about — well, anything, really.

Mingling over cookies and coffee, the group of Chattanooga police officers and residents met for the department's first 'Coffee with a Cop' session, a program designed to open conversations and grow trust between community members and police.

In small groups and one-on-one conversations, the officers and citizens were free to talk about anything from speeding tickets to racial bias. The important thing, Officer Rob Simmons said, was to get some dialogue flowing.

"There are things the citizens can learn from us, and more importantly there are things we can learn from the citizens," he said. He and Sgt. Michael Joiner organized the event.

Sharon Loving, a local resident who has founded a grassroots anti-gun violence organization, said she'd been looking for a way to meet with officers and was excited to hear about Friday's event.

"Hopefully we can bring all sides together," she said. "Let's not stand in our corners and cross our arms and point our fingers and yell at each other. Because that's not productive."

Friday's meeting was by invitation only, but Simmons is planning to hold Coffee with a Cop sessions at regular intervals throughout the year. Future sessions will be open to the public, he said.

He hopes to hold Coffee with a Cop meetings at least once every two months, although the specific schedule hasn't been nailed down.

"I want this to be a continual conversation with the community," he said.

The department's efforts lined up with a push by the U.S. Department of Justice, which declared Friday to be 'National Coffee with a Cop Day.' More than 500 law enforcement agencies across the nation agreed to hold coffee with a cop events Friday, according to the Department of Justice.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.

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