TEMPE (NYTIMES) - Six police officers walked into a Starbucks in Tempe, Arizona, on Independence Day, paid for their orders and began to enjoy their drinks near the entrance.
A customer who was "anxious, nervous or uncomfortable" seeing the officers asked a barista multiple times what the officers were doing there, a Starbucks spokesman, Mr Reggie Borges, said.
"The barista said, 'These guys come here all the time,'" Mr Borges said on Sunday (July 7). "The barista repeatedly said, 'They come here all the time. There is nothing wrong'."
The customer, a white man, continued to ask about the officers, who were also white men. The barista asked the officers to move away from the area where customers pick up their orders, which was near the entrance, to relieve the customer's anxiety, Mr Borges said.
The Tempe Officers Association said in a Facebook post that the barista had asked the officers "to move out of the customer's line of sight or to leave".
"Disappointed," the post continued, "the officers did in fact 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. Unfortunately, such treatment has become all too common in 2019."
On Twitter, the association posted an image similar to the Starbucks logo, with "Dump Starbucks" in a green circle around an illustration of a hand pouring out a cup of coffee. The tweet included a thread explaining what had happened, as well as the hashtag "#ZeroRespect".
Some Twitter users backed the officers.
"I bet if and when the Starbucks customer needs help, the cops would be the first ones they called," one person wrote on Twitter.
Another wrote: "Damn, in my city officers get free coffee just for making a presence in the shop. The barista should've told that customer to suck it up or leave."
Some wrote in support of the nervous customer.
"I don't feel safe around the police, EVER. You need to work harder to earn our respect and trust, we don't have to blindly give it to you," read a tweet.
Employees at the Starbucks in Tempe where the officers had been asked to leave declined to answer questions about the episode on Sunday.
The chief of the Tempe Police Department, Ms Sylvia Moir, wrote on Twitter that the episode was an opportunity to work together.
"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!" she wrote.
Ms Rossann Williams, executive vice president/president of retail for Starbucks in the United States, said in a statement that she had spoken to Ms Moir.
"On behalf of Starbucks, I want to sincerely apologise to you all for the experience that six of your officers had in our store on July 4," Ms Williams 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."
Ms Williams added: "Our partners rely on your service and welcome your presence, which keeps our stores and the community a safe and welcoming place."
In Tempe, Starbucks holds "coffee with a cop" events, Mr Borges said.
"We invite the community to talk to the police," he said.
This was the latest episode in which Starbucks found itself in the spotlight over its handling of customers.
The coffee chain made headlines last year after two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. The men had asked to use the restroom but were refused because they had not made a purchase. They were asked to leave, and when they refused, an employee called the police. The men were arrested but were released after the company declined to press charges.
The coffee company apologised on Twitter and in full-page newspaper ads. The hashtag #BoycottStarbucks picked up steam on social media.
The backlash pushed the coffee chain to announce that it would close more than 8,000 stores in the United States for one day to conduct anti-bias training for 175,000 employees. Starbucks changed its policy and began allowing guests to sit in its locations without buying anything. It also brought on social justice activists and policy advocates as counsel.
"It is our hope that the incident which occurred at Starbucks was an isolated incident between one community member and a single employee, rather than an entire organisation," the Tempe Police Department said in a statement.
Ms Williams and Ms Moir were scheduled to have a conversation on Sunday - over a cup of coffee.