Brussels police officers spent an afternoon with residents of the Matongé neighbourhood on Wednesday, as part of an event aiming to foster better communication between locals and police.
In an informal event hosted by a local restaurant, police officers sat down with residents, sharing a drink and offering advice, answering questions and discussing neighbourhood affairs.
The initiative, dubbed "Coffee with a cop," is a first in Brussels, and was set up by the Brussels-Ixelles police zone to encourage better relations between daytime patrol officers and neighbourhood residents.
"I think it's a great idea. It appears that a lot of people in Brussels do not know their neighbourhood officer," one policeman said after he finished a conversation with a local.
"This event is for them to come meet us, ask us questions and tell us about their problems," he said, noting that most people were often hesitant to go to a police station.
The event is one of a string of similar afternoons planned by the police zone of the municipalities of Brussels and Ixelles, with additional gatherings planned in coming weeks.
"I think it's a very good opportunity to be able to talk to the police without necessarily having to go file a complaint," Pierre, a 50-year-old Brussels native said as he waited his turn to approach one of the two officers present.
Pierre said that he had come to discuss concerns he had over security and cleanliness in Matongé, a neighbourhood he's lived in for 15 years.
"I work during the day so I never see police officers, all I see when I return home from work are drug dealers," he said adding that public cleanliness was also high on his list of concerns.
The police officer acknowledged that several other residents out of the dozen he estimated to have shown up so far shared the same concerns, adding that while there was still work to do, some progress had been made.
The police zone will look to make the event a regular happening, noting a successful opening gathering in the Louise neighbourhood.
"Relations between police officers and local residents are not always easy, especially in districts that are more complicated," Bettina Merelle, a councillor with the police zone said.
"This is our second event so far, but it appears to be a promising initiative which we will look to repeat," she added.
The Brussels Times