Community engagement is a priority for McPherson County law enforcement officials, but it is still an uphill battle.

Several communities around McPherson County held Coffee With A Cop events over the past year, and four cities will participate in this year's National Coffee With A Cop Day on Oct. 4. The events give the public a time to meet and talk with law enforcement officials on neutral ground.

"It has made a difference," said Executive Sgt. Mark Brinck of the McPherson Police Department. "I've been involved in several of them and have met a lot of good people."

Moundridge Police Chief Jay Kessler said attendance at Coffee With A Cop is not always as high as expected, which can make it difficult to justify the time spent by multiple law enforcement officials who attend.

"I'd like to see more people show up," Kessler said. "It's a good opportunity for people to ask questions and meet us."

At past events, representatives from local police departments, the McPherson County Sheriff's Office, McPherson County Corrections Department, Kansas Highway Patrol and McPherson County 911 were present.

Galva Police Chief Staci Curl said Coffee With A Cop has given people a chance to see law enforcement officials as the humans they are.

"It's nice to be able to visit, and not necessarily about law enforcement," Curl said.

Curl said the event has been beneficial, even though she already sees many of the town's residents on a daily basis.

"I have a good relationship with people, for the most part," Curl said. "If people want to know something, they're not afraid to stop and ask me."

Coffee With A Cop has made an impact by allowing residents to meet the law enforcement officials working near Galva, Curl said.

"They might not know who some of the sheriff's deputies are or troopers are who are making stops or responding to calls," Curl said. "They kind of expect to see my face."

When Curl is off-duty or on another call, other law enforcement officials can be dispatched.

"It is a great thing in our community to know who is going to be knocking on your door when you call 911," Curl said.

Canton Police Chief Mark Barnett said Coffee With A Cop may do more good in bigger communities, which see a higher number of new residents and officers, but that there was value in hosting them in his town as well.

"One nice thing is some residents who were reluctant to come and talk to law enforcement brought up some small issues we were able to take care of and fix fairly quickly," Barnett said.

Giving people a chance to ask questions of law enforcement officials in a relaxed atmosphere is one of the goals of Coffee With A Cop events.

"It's always good to ask and get an answer — if we don't have it, we'll find it for them," Barnett said.

McPherson County Sheriff Jerry Montagne said Coffee With A Cop is held at different times of the day to allow more people to have a chance to participate.

"It's a great thing to come and say hi to a cop," Montagne said. "Being sheriff, I like meeting as many people as I can."

Montagne will be at Inman's Coffee With A Cop on Oct. 4.

"It's a great opportunity for people to come out, sit down and talk with a cop, or just meet them on a one-to-one basis," Montagne said.

Questions about topics ranging from the operation of the sheriff's office to the specifics of a law are inquiries Montagne has answered at the events.

"I get a lot of people who come up to me and say, 'Well, I didn't want to call the police, but I've got a question for you,'" Montagne said. "Here's your opportunity."

Having events like Coffee With A Cop can also help allay fears fueled by negative media attention, Montagne said.

"Things are not, sometimes, so good for police officers. This is a positive thing rather than a negative thing," Montagne said. "I think it's helped, because I've talked to people who said, 'I talked to you at Coffee With A Cop.'"

National Coffee with a Cop Day will be held from 8 to 10 a.m. Oct. 4 at The White Peacock, 124 S. Main St. in Lindsborg, Perkins Restaurant, 2111 E. Kansas Ave. in McPherson, Modd’s Sweets & Eats, 131 S. Christian Ave. in Moundridge and the Inman Community Building, 406 E. Center St. in Inman.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.