Starbucks, Police Turn Comms Into Love Fest After Tempe Episode

Thom Weidlich 07.11.19


Starbucks had a crisis over the Fourth of July weekend involving the treatment of customers who happened to be police officers. The company handled the situation well — as did the police department and the police union. In fact, the communications became something of a love fest. It’s a good example of how you can reach a positive outcome from a negative beginning.

On Thursday, July 4, a barista at a Starbucks in Tempe, Arizona, politely asked the group of six police officers to either move from near the entrance or leave the store entirely. A customer said their presence made him nervous.

The request should never have been made, but the officers did their own expert crisis response by not making a fuss and simply leaving. However, the local police union, the Tempe Officers Association, wrote about the matter on its Facebook page.

The next day the Tempe Police Department put out its own statement saying it had reached out to the Starbucks corporate office, which said it was “aware of this incident and advised this interaction is not in line with Starbucks’ values.”

We recognize the event happened during a major holiday, but Starbucks took too long to officially apologize — two days. Once it did, its language was (mostly) good. The apology came in the form of a July 6 letter from Rossann Williams, the company’s president of U.S. retail, to the Tempe Police Department and its chief, Sylvia Moir (with whom Williams said she had spoken).

“What occurred in our store on July 4 is never the experience your officers or any customer should have,” Williams wrote. She said she would be in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, that evening, and would be available to meet with any police officer.

That offer reminds us of Seattle-based Starbucks’ lauded response to its racial incident last year, during which its CEO flew to Philadelphia to deal with the matter. Apparently, parachuting someone into a negative situation that has gotten national attention is now a standard practice for Starbucks — and a good one.

Community Relationships

In her statement, Williams was able to mention the company’s “Coffee With a Cop” program that brings residents and police together for dialogue in Tempe-area Starbucks. This shows the importance in crisis communications of building relationships within the community before a crisis hits.

The one sour note in Williams’s missive was its mention that the company was “already taking the necessary steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” As we’ve mentioned in the past, it’s a mistake to make such blanket statements, which could backfire if and (inevitably) when such a crisis does recur. Best to say that every effort is being made toward that end.


What occurred in our store on July 4 is never the experience your officers or any customer should have.

— Rossann Williams, Starbuck’s president of U.S. retail

Chief Moir felt the need to add her own response to the gathering social-media storm (some called for a boycott of Starbucks). She tweeted: “Twitter world – we are using this incident to show how to thoughtfully engage in dialogue – it is NOT ok to blame, rage, or call for anything other than positive change – @TempePolice & @Starbucks are professionals!”

Yes, it was a love fest. The police union put up another Facebook post on Sunday thanking the public for its support and Starbucks for apologizing. It posted yet againthe next day, reporting that the officers and Chief Moir had met with Starbucks. “While this situation may have started steeped in negativity, we remain determined to turn it into a positive moment for one and all,” it said.

The police department also issued a statement lauding the “meaningful and positive dialogue.” “This will be the final statement regarding this incident as we are working to move forward,” it said.

Case closed.

Photo Credit: CrisisResponsePro

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