In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis earlier this year, as well as subsequent police-involved shootings in Atlanta and Kenosha, Wisc., police departments felt under siege.
Orange County was not immune, with occasional protests in some cities.
In Tustin, however, protests were largely peaceful. And, rather than rancor and unrest, cops found something else arriving at their doors — baked goods. Lots of them.
Like the plates of cookies brought in by Sandy Raszka.
A Tustin resident, Raszka, who has a son-in-law with the Irvine Police Department, said she wanted to show not only Tustin cops, but law enforcement throughout Orange County, that communities supported them.
Raszka hooked up with Jess Duensing, owner of Cookies by Jess in Orange, to donate time and money to start a movement, “Cookies 4 Cops.”.
The next thing they knew, interest skyrocketed through social media and crowdfunding.
With each plate of cookies, a message was included with reasons to give a cop a cookie. They included, “They protect and serve … All of Us” and “Cops are our family, friends and neighbors.”
Maybe not quite “If You Give a Mouse A Cookie,” but you get the idea.
Duensing whipped up 20 trays of cookies, including some made to look like police cars and badges. And soon she had requests and orders for 60 more.
According to Raszka, plans are in the works for a second round of deliveries, with residents and groups from places such as Atlanta and Albuquerque expressing interest in taking up similar efforts.
Duensing said it was important to show support for “cops, with what they were going through.” The appreciation from the police, she said, “brought tears to your eyes.”
And it wasn’t just cookies.
Tustin Lt. Andrew Birozy said cops were unable to eat all the treats the community was bringing in. Oh, and gift baskets. There were all kinds of overstuffed gift baskets.
“They wanted us to know we were appreciated,” Birozy said. “Getting that support is extremely helpful. It reminds us why we go into this, and that the community appreciated the service.”
While the outpouring of goodwill is important for morale, if not the waistlines of Tustin police, it is not unusual in the town of about 80,000.
In early August, the Back the Blue Ministry made a stop at Tustin police headquarters with signs of support and, of course, care packages to keep police well-fed.
The Tustin Police Department has had a commitment to community policing and engagement that continues under Chief Stu Greenberg.
Tyron Jackson, a local activist and founder of the nonprofit Operation Warm Wishes, which conducts services and outreach to the homeless and other struggling groups, said Tustin PD has long been a “positive presence” in his life.
Despite his experiences with homelessness in high school, the Tustin Unified special-education teacher said Tustin police always treated him like family and helped him when he struggled.
“I’ve always known them by their names,” he said. “As I’ve grown older, I remember how they helped me. I’ve seen that consistency through the years.”
Jackson is not Pollyannaish about police attitudes and systemic race issues in departments nationwide. For that reason, Jackson helped lead a protest that brought 1,000 marchers to Tustin.
To Jackson, it was important for Tustin to be in the national discussion even though, he said, “I knew our police couldn’t do (what was done to Floyd).”
While protests in other cities sometimes got violent, Jackson said the Tustin march “was the most peaceful in Orange County.”
Although police were on hand, they were supportive.
“It was a different example,” Jackson said of the protest. “This was the way it was supposed to be. I called officers (later) and said, ‘Thank you for being an example.’ ”
Tustin police consistently try to forge positive relationships, whether through shopping trips with kids during the holidays or for school supplies, reading to kids or myriad other events.
Jackson added it is not uncommon to see cops engaging in a little pick-up basketball with local youth.
“And they’re not doing it to be on a video,” Jackson said.
While many police departments engage in community policing, Tustin tries to take it a step further.
It extends from the top with Greenberg’s Chief’s Advisory Board, which includes community residents representing areas such as health care, business and child protective interests. The board helps advise police and “act as a resource for the Chief in the formation of strategies, development of policing concepts and increasing public awareness regarding policy issues,” according to the department.
Birozy said the board, with its broad representation, helps define “what we as an organization can do to improve relationships and get the word out on who we are.”
This may help explain why Tustin police have received the outpouring of support during what has been turbulent times in the relationship between communities and law enforcement.
Duensing said she was overwhelmed by the feedback she received supporting Tustin PD.
“So many people wanted to make sure we went to Tustin,” she said. “Everyone loves Tustin PD. They must be doing something right.”