ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — Elmira Police Chief Anthony Alvernaz is taking to the streets to meet with the people he serves every day.

Elmira Tea and Coffeehouse hosted the first ever Coffee with the Chief, an initiative designed to let regular people have a heart to heart with the leader of the city’s law enforcement. Open to the public, the event was an opportunity to let the community connect with law enforcement on a level that is rare in the modern day.

With law enforcement and the communities they serve feeling more separated than ever, Chief Alvernaz says that events like this represent a concerted effort by his department to get back to what he considers the roots of policing, a community protecting itself.

We are community members, and we don’t want to feel as if we are a separate entity or a different type of person. We live here, our kids go to school here, we play sports, our families live here, our friends live here… We are no different, we just happen to wear a uniform when we go to work.

Anthony Alvernaz – Elmira Police Chief

With nearly three decades under his belt as a law enforcement officer, Alvernaz says that his tenure as Chief has been a difficult but rewarding task. However, he said the hardest things he ever had to do on the job were not as chief, but as a patrolman and a detective. One thing that stood out in his memory was an instance where he had to notify a family that the husband and son had died on the way back from a fishing trip in Ithaca. He said that watching the family grieve in that moment was one of the most difficult things he had ever seen.

As for the second worst thing he’s ever had to deal with… he jokingly said that it was his weekly meetings with City Manager Mike Collins, who laughed alongside him, nearly spitting out his coffee. The chief had a smile on his face for the whole event. To him, it seemed that there was nowhere he would rather be than among his community members. He wants the public to feel safe and secure, and above all, trust in the police. They want to be there to help above all else, and serve the community they are a part of. If people don’t trust the police as an institution, they won’t call for help if they need it. To him, that is unacceptable.

Chief Alvernaz said this won’t be a one time thing. “It shouldn’t be something that’s done for PR… I think it’s extremely important for any police department to be doing some kind of community outreach on a regular basis.” According to Alvernaz, getting the PD’s finger on the pulse of the community is the best way to improve and connect with the people they serve. Above all… “we just want to be approachable.”

Future events will likely be held in outdoor spaces like Wisner Park, and are as yet to be determined. 18 News will have an ear to the ground for coming events.