Residents invited to ‘coffee with a cop’

Strasburg Police Chief Tim Sutherly speaks to a small gathering Thursday morning during his Coffee With a Cop campaign, which gave local citizens an opportunity to chat with police department staff. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Police Chief Tim Sutherly has begun a series of informal meetings with community members that he hopes will foster communication and respect between citizens and department members.

The first of the meetings, dubbed “coffee with a cop,” drew a light turnout Thursday morning at the town hall. Sutherly and several uniformed officers talked about the department’s past and present and fielded a few questions from the audience.

Sutherly explained the origins of the Strasburg High School school resource officer, a position that was created through a federal government grant offered in the aftermath of the shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. Local officials later decided to continue funding the position after the grant expired.

Marie Spence told Sutherly that she approved of the school resource officer’s work.

“I think the SRO has been invaluable, not just for outside dangers but for building rapport with the kids,” Spence said.

Sutherly agreed that the officer is “not about” intimidating misbehaving students. He said the officer is there to send a message to any intruder intent on committing violence that the school is “not a soft target” and a member of the police force is prepared to “end it before they hurt a hair on our kids’ heads.”

Mike Terndrup asked Sutherly if he had any advice about whether to call police when someone notices a male neighbor acting loud and rowdy around a woman.

“That’s really up to you and your discretion,” Sutherly said. “You know your neighbors and their tendencies.”

Sutherly added that it was better for a bystander to call police in uncertain circumstances than wait until the situations has escalated into an imminent danger to someone.

Sutherly began the meeting with some graphs showing how the number of calls for service and crimes have risen and fallen in the town over the last 16 years. The 1,402 calls for service in 2000 rose to a peak of 10,847 before tapering off to 8,403 in 2014, the last year for which figures were available.

Another graph showed crimes dropping from 354 in 2008 to 214 in 2012.

Sutherly said the overall numbers show Strasburg with an “extremely low” rate of serious crime compared to other communities of similar size.

Sutherly said the 17-member force includes one member assigned to the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, the school resource officer and 12 patrol officers.

The ratio of police officers to town population is “pretty much” the same as other communities in the area, Sutherly said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com