It was insulting and embarrassing when a Starbucks barista on July 4 asked a group of six Tempe police officers to leave or stay out of sight of a customer who complained that they made him feel unsafe.
But when Rob Ferraro, president of the Tempe Officer’s Association, spotlighted the incident through a series of tweets, the officers received a groundswell of support and a personal apology from a Starbuck’s vice president.
In the end, the incident ignited a healthy dialogue about how cops wanted to be treated like human beings and evaluated as individuals, not scapegoated as a group based upon the actions of a few “bad actors,’’ Ferrero said.
“We’re human beings and members of the community like any other community,’’ Ferraro said.
He said it’s not fair to judge anyone as part of a group based upon broad generalities, and that everyone deserves to be judged as individuals based upon their own merits.
“To make sweeping generalities about law enforcement because of there might be some bad actors is totally unacceptable,’’ Ferraro said.
For decades, “minority groups have been fighting for just being equal,’’ Ferrero said. “Any member of our department would be appalled if a minority group was asked to leave.’’
Once the incident was disclosed, Starbucks shifted immediately into damage control mode, dispatching Rossann Williams, executive vice president and president of U.S. retail, to Tempe to issue an apology in person during meetings with Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir and with the six officers who were asked to leave the Starbucks at Scottsdale and McKellips roads in Tempe.
The tweets from the Tempe Officers Association said the officers were in uniform and having coffee together before the start of a long shift when they were approached by the barista, who was polite, but still out of line, when she asked them to leave.
“This treatment of public safety workers could not be more disheartening. While the barista was polite, making such a request at all was offensive,’’ the officers association said. “Unfortunately, such treatment has become all too common in 2019.’’
The officers chose to leave the coffee shop, feeling “disappointed,’’ according to the association.
But the incident did not appear to impact business at the north Tempe Starbucks. Cars were still lined up at the drive-thru window in late morning on Monday – the first business day after the holiday weekend – and employees seemed especially friendly in welcoming customers.
In its letter of apology, Starbucks essentially agreed with the association and said police are welcome like any other customer. It vowed to take unspecified steps to prevent any further disrespectful incidents.
“When those officers entered the store and a customer raised a concern over their presence, they should have been welcomed and treated with dignity and the utmost respect by our partners (employees.) Instead, they were made to feel unwelcome and disrespected, which is completely unacceptable,’’ the letter said.
“Our partners rely on your service and welcome your presence, which keeps our stores and the community a safe and welcoming place,’’ the statement continued in part.
The association issued a statement saying police appreciated the apology, saying the six officers “came away from the meeting feeling heard and respected.’’
In the end, the association said it hopes the incident “re-affirms the important and strong partnership between our officer and our community.’’
Ferraro said he is glad he publicized the incident and believes it started an important dialogue about not scapegoating police. He said he feels no ill-will toward the barista. It was unclear what action, if any, was taken by Starbucks toward the barista.
“It’s part of a culture where we are trying to appease people because they might be offended,’’ Ferraro said.