Coffee with a Cop expands

Seniors, school kids talk to officers

Manuel Magarino came to show his support for the many law officers who keep North Bergen safe. “The police and the fire department, they do a very risky job on behalf of the citizens,” he said. “No matter the race, no matter the age, they come to protect us. So we have to back them up.”
For Magarino, 82, that meant attending the Coffee with a Cop event on Friday, Feb. 26 in the community room at the Lawler Towers senior residence. Officers spent the morning mingling with building residents, addressing their concerns, serving coffee, and hosting BINGO. Mayor Nicholas Sacco made his way around the room speaking personally with many of the attendees, as did other town officials.

“These residents are productive people in our community. And quite often they have very insightful things to say about what’s going on.” –Allen Pascual
Housing Authority Executive Director Gerald Sanzari kicked off the event by introducing the guests to a crowd of several dozen residents of the building. Among those joining the festivities were Freeholder Anthony Vainieri and Commissioners Hugo Cabrera and Allen Pascual.
“It’s important that you get a chance to talk with the officers because a lot of times when the police are called, it’s an emergency,” Police Chief Robert Dowd told the audience. “We rush in, we take care of business, and we rush out. We never really get a chance to sit and talk, one on one.”
At the event, Dowd said, “I want to encourage you to sit with the officers today and tell them any problems you have, even small problems. Because small problems are easy; they require small solutions.”

Building community relations

Coffee with a Cop events are run in municipalities across the nation as a way to build trust and rapport between police and citizens. The series was launched in North Bergen early last year to give residents a chance to get to know their local police, to ask questions and share concerns, and for the police to get to interact in a positive way with the community.
“It’s a way to break down the barriers and build community relations,” said Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual. “These residents are productive people in our community. And quite often they have very insightful things to say about what’s going on.”
Last year the Police Department held variations on the theme with a “Cookies with a Cop” event at the library, where young kids got to engage in hands-on activities related to policing, and “Fun with a Cop” in Bruins Stadium, with police participating in sports and activities with students.
The Feb. 26 event was the first of what will is intended as an ongoing series in the senior buildings. “We’re going to be doing this in the schools too, at night, so parents can come,” said Pascual.
Instead of having them in the morning when parents are rushing to work, they will be held in the evening twice a year in each of the schools.


“When the senior residents have tenant association meetings once a month in each building, what they like to talk about more than anything else is safety issues,” said Sanzari. As part of the community outreach, police officers are going to start attending those tenant association meetings.
In the meantime, the residents turned out in force for the Coffee with a Cop session and clearly enjoyed interacting with the officers. “This generation has a real respect for the police,” said Dowd.
“These are my heroes right here,” said Robert Malhado, taking from his wallet a picture of his two grandsons, both policemen in New York City. “They’re detectives now. They go all over the five boroughs after guys with guns. You gotta be proud of these guys.”
Magarino, dressed in camouflage fatigues, couldn’t agree more. He was quick to chat with the officers and officials about their jobs and experiences. After coming to the U.S. from Cuba in 1954, he went into the Army within days, along with his brothers Robert and Tito.
“We were involved in some missions overseas,” he said. “We served in Korea and Germany from 1954 to ’61. Anti-aircraft artillery. I know every kind of firearm.”
And he still remembered the instructions that were drilled into his head all those years ago.
“There are general orders in the Army,” said Officer Alfredo Echeverria, one of the policemen hosting the event. “You have to recite them every day. [Magarino] asks me what’s the fifth general order. And I couldn’t tell him. He recited every single one of them.”
Echeverria laughed. “He’s schooling me, man.”

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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