The OP Cafe. Photo courtesy of Yelp.

Santa Monica Police Officers will be taking orders from the public rather than reports as they experiment with a new outreach effort “Served by the Badge” this morning. About nine sworn officers and several SMPD staffers will be waiting tables at The OP Café from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. today while answering questions and meeting customers.

Twenty percent of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the SMPD’s Explorer’s Program, a jobs program that allows young men and women to gain experience in law enforcement. Chief Cynthia Renaud is expected to attend.

“It’s a great way to give back to the community,” said local restaurateur Ron Knoll. “It’s good for the police department and for the local neighborhood to express issues that they’re having. It’s a way for the police to know what’s going on from the ground up.”

While participating officers took a crash course earlier this week on waiting tables, Knoll said Saturday’s event will have “all hands on deck” with professional wait staff to ensure things go smoothly during the morning rush. Police will be pouring coffee and taking orders, but the focus for them is on conversation.

“I thought it would be nice to see us in a different light and get to interact,” said Sgt. Roberto Villegas, who helped organize the event. “For a few hours during the morning rush, we are going to be the staff.”

“Served by the Badge” is an expansion to the popular “coffee with a cop” program, where officers gather at a particular coffee shop to mingle and meet customers. Knoll said expanding the event was a natural fit for The OP Café, which gives a fifty percent discount to police to thank them for their service (and encourage officers to swing by on their shifts).

“The police department practically lives here,” Knoll said. “We feel it’s important to support the people in uniform.”

Knoll said he’s noticed police receiving more criticism on social media websites like Facebook and Nextdoor. He thinks encouraging face-to-face conversations can help the public learn about the difficulties faced by officers, and vice versa.

“We have a million new ways to communicate and we do a worse job now that we did when everybody just had one phone number,” Knoll said. “It’s an art. It’s a skill that people have lost.”

The OP Café is at 3117 Ocean Park Blvd. The event will run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press

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