Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies were meeting, greeting and even doling out the whip cream Wednesday at the Starbucks in Canyon Country, near the intersection of Camp Plenty and Soledad Canyon roads.
The latest installment of “Coffee with a Cop” featured Deputy Evan Luster pitching in behind the counter and a pair of Crime Prevention Unit zone leaders for the city’s east side — deputies Juan Ayala and Rafael Sierra — helping out customers where they could.
Lt. Brandon Barclay and Sgt. Guillermo Martinez also joined in the customer greetings at the event that was part outreach and part public service, with a dash of recruitment, too.
“As far as the community engagement aspect, it opens a window for people to come and engage with a coffee, and recognize the human behind the badge,” said Lt. Brandon Barclay, the operations lieutenant for the SCV Sheriff’s Station.
The deputies helping customers certainly seemed comfortable lending a hand, a few of them earning the appreciation and respect of their newfound colleagues as they donned special Coffee with a Cop-edition trademark green aprons that had their names right below where their badges could be seen.
“It’s been great — we love Evan,” said Hailey Claitor, who knew Luster as a regular at the location prior to Wednesday’s event, as well as a few of the other deputies helping around the counter.
“We have deputies here who are helping out our ‘usuals,’ which are also his usuals, too,” Claitor said, noting that the cafe setting acts as a great gathering point and that their frequent customers have developed friends at the coffee shop and also know each other from the community.
“We get to meet a pretty diverse crowd,” said Martinez, who leads the station’s CPU and its Off-Road Enforcement Team.
“We run into people who like law enforcement and we run into people who don’t like law enforcement, and we’ve been able to change people’s perspectives sometimes, give them an opportunity to ask questions where they may not otherwise feel comfortable (asking),” he said.
He relayed the story of a woman he met during a previous Coffee with a Cop who had a family full of relatives with medical backgrounds. But she was interested in the process of becoming a deputy after speaking with Martinez, who previously instructed trainees at the Sheriff’s Academy.
Now she’s a reserve deputy, he said, and then, almost as if on cue as he finished the anecdote, a woman in her 20s walked up and started asking questions about the requirements for becoming a deputy.
Like many other law enforcement agencies across the county, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has plenty of open positions.
Former Sheriff Alex Villanueva noted in February that departmentwide LASD is staffed at about 72%, and Capt. Justin Diez, noted earlier this month that the SCV Station deputies already are regularly scheduled for “a significant amount of overtime” to address a staffing shortage. (Carrie Lujan, city of Santa Clarita spokeswoman, said the SCV Sheriff’s Station has always remained in compliance with its service contract, which tracks the time of deputies allocated to city patrols down to the minute.)
In addition to support for deputies, some of the visitors wanted to ask about crime, traffic and the area’s rising homeless population.
The topic was a particularly sensitive one for the Canyon Country coffee shop, which had an incident inside the store earlier in the month involving a transient woman dealing with mental health issues, who became an aggressive panhandler. After giving the woman one dollar, and then another, the woman said she didn’t have $5 to give her when the suspect made a third ask. The homeless woman then hit the victim on the back of her head.
Store manager Nina Sabedra, who acknowledged the incident, said it was nice to have the deputies’ presence, especially some of the regulars, and the event is something she’d love to see more often.
“It’s definitely needed, and it’s nice to see them connected with the community. I think that’s very important in our area because of all the incidents that we’re having in the area, so it’s great to see them,” Sabedra said.
“I like that they’re calling out the drinks, one of them was putting on some whipped cream and some caramel drizzle — it’s nice that they were willing to help out, get behind there and get their hands dirty.”