Why Police Should Ignore the Starbucks Kerfuffle

The blowback on Facebook against Starbucks was especially vitriolic, leading an outside observer to conclude that mistreatment of law enforcement officers in the company's stores is a pervasive problem (spoiler alert: it's not).

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On Independence Day in Tempe, AZ, six police officers were approached by an employee of a local Starbucks store and told their presence was making another customer "uncomfortable."

The employee told the officers they could either relocate to another part of the establishment out of the customer's line of sight, or depart the premises.

The officers decided to leave.

News of this exchange soon hit social media, and indignant officers across the country started talking about boycotting the coffee chain. The blowback on Facebook against Starbucks was especially vitriolic, leading an outside observer to conclude that mistreatment of law enforcement officers in the company's stores is a pervasive problem (spoiler alert: it's not).

"Dump Starbucks" was a common comment among officers for the duration of the long holiday weekend and into the following week.

After the eruption of emotion among officers across the country, a veteran-owned coffee chain—the Black Rifle Coffee Company—announced that it would donate a bag of its coffee to law enforcement agencies for every purchase until July 12. As many as 10,000 bags of coffee may be donated.

BRCC seems to be a top-notch organization, and their generous offer of free coffee for police is laudable.

Apology Not Accepted

After realizing that the Tempe controversy would not just go away all by itself, Rossann Williams—the vice president of retail operations for Starbucks—issued a written apology in which she said, "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."

Williams continued, "What occurred in our store on July 4 is never the experience your officers or any customer should have, and at Starbucks, we are already taking the necessary steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future."

Williams then flew to Tempe to meet with Chief Sylvia Moir as well as officers and police leaders at the department.

Tempe Officers Association President Rob Ferraro said that the officers present at the meeting came away "feeling heard and respected."

Seemingly, Tempe PD and the leadership at Starbucks buried the hatchet and pledged to move on.

However, the online firestorm continued unabated, with many continuing to call for widespread boycott of the chain.

Memes were created and shared—insults were flung in all directions.

To me, it was akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion.

It just… kept… coming.

Here's the thing, though.

The "outrage" over this incident is misplaced.

Boneheads Are Everywhere

Did the Starbucks employee in Tempe make a boneheaded error in handling the situation between the "uncomfortable" customer and the six officers enjoying their wildly overpriced beverages?

You bet they did.

Was there probably another way to resolve the situation?

You bet there was—probably more than one in fact.

But blowing up the Internet over the incident is overkill.

Starbucks employs nearly 200,000 people in the United States in nearly 15,000 stores.

Are some of those employees vehemently anti-police?

Probably yes.

Are some of them absolute dolts who couldn't count out your change without the assistance of the cash register's little calculator?

Also, probably yes.

I don't know if the Tempe employee in question merits mention in either of the abovementioned categories, but I'm going to grant this person the benefit of the doubt and chalk this incident up to a momentary lapse in good judgement.

Those things happen in every profession—even in policing.

Think of any critical incident in which something ugly looking—maybe even immoral, unethical, illegal, or simply idiotic—happens between an officer and a subject.

The event is captured on mobile phone video and presented as anti-police propaganda.

The Internet blows up with righteous indignation from people who know very little—if anything at all—about law enforcement or the law.

People start painting—with one broad brush—all 800,000+ officers working at more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country as being terrible people who routinely do terrible things to innocent civilians.

Police officers don't much like that kind of judgement and criticism—and rightfully so, because they know that the overwhelming majority of officers do the right things at the right times for the right reasons.

It's unfair—and inaccurate—to pass judgement on an entire group of people based on the actions of one individual.

Are there a handful of boneheaded cops in this country?


There are also priests who shouldn't be priests and pilots who shouldn't be pilots.

There are boneheads everywhere.


Every profession has a couple of folks who really should be doing something else—like perhaps working at Starbucks—rather than working in their current profession.

Any reasonable, rational individual accepts this as part of living in an imperfect world populated by imperfect people.

Starbucks as a company—and in my personal experience, right down to the tattooed 20-somethings working the levers of the espresso machine—is generally pro-police.

I've consumed many cups of Starbucks coffee sitting across the table from a uniformed officer and done so in complete comfort.

Starbucks regularly is the host for "Coffee with a Cop" events all over America.

I've even seen more than one Starbucks employee at the cash register refuse to accept an officer's attempt to pay for their purchase, choosing instead to take money from their own tip jar to fill the company till.

You don't get much more pro-cop than that.

For the past week, police officers across the country have vilified an entire group of people over the dopey mistake of one employee. They've made a mountain out of a molehill.

Meanwhile, there are actual attacks on police officers, not perceived slights and subsequently invented outrage.

In the week since the Starbucks incident occurred, two police officers have died in the line of duty at the hands of violent offenders.

Officer John Anderson was killed in a vehicle collision with a car driven by an offender fleeing the scene of a traffic stop.

Deputy Nicholas Dixon was shot and killed by a gunman during a foot pursuit.

During this weeklong tirade against Starbucks we also marked the one-year anniversary of one of the worst days in police history, when five officers with the Dallas Police Department were murdered and nine others badly wounded.

I saw very few memorials about the Dallas ambush in my Facebook feed on July 7.

Instead of a tidal wave of "Dallas Strong" social media posts, it was all Starbucks, all the time.


Let's get back to what's truly important.

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