AUBURN — Coffee, doughnuts and conversation, provided free of charge by the Auburn Police Department, might not be a cure for police controversies around the country right now, but it may offer a way to prevent them.
“It’s a way of reaching out to the community and saying, ‘We’re here,'” police Sgt. Barry Schmieks said. “If you have concerns, bring them here and to us, rather than another event that could get out of hand.”
Auburn police hosted their Coffee with a Cop Monday morning at downtown’s 84 Court Pizza and Restaurant, across the street from Auburn Hall.
The department provides free coffee and treats, and officers show up to meet and talk. It’s part of a national effort. So far, 175 cities in 36 states have hosted similar get-togethers.
“People really don’t have many opportunities otherwise,” Schmieks said.
The effort began long before this year’s shootings in Missouri and New York. But the shooting last week of two New York City officers was on officers’ minds.
Auburn officer Mike Chaine was one of thousands of officers who attended the funeral for NYPD officer Rafael Ramos Saturday in New York City.
Deputy Chief Jason Moen said his officers feel they have their community’s support.
“People I’ve talked to really seem to appreciate what we do,” Moen said. “They are thankful they have us.”
The department does work hard to find ways to connect with residents, he said. They have a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter and worked to open a Police Activities League center for children in Chestnut Street Park.
“We put a police-oriented community center in the very middle of the square mile of our city that has our most calls for service,” Moen said. “By establishing that program in our very core, we hope that better attitude will trickle out.”
It’s the fourth time this year Auburn’s police have hosted this sort of coffee klatch. It’s an informal opportunity for residents to meet officers, chat with them and get to see them differently.
“It’s a chance to get people away from the station or a police call — engagement with us that’s not because of an emergency,” Schmieks said. “If you think about it, when would you call the police? When it’s an emergency or when something bad has happened.”
The events have moved around the city — from New Auburn to the mall area — and around the clock, from morning to evening.
Jeff Wilkins, of Lafayette Street, brought daughter Anna, 10, to Monday’s meeting to talk to officers.
“This is a good, low-key event so my daughter can meet the officers and interact,” Wilkins said. “I want her to know some of the people.”
Schmieks said the next event will be sometime in March and likely during the evening. He’s now looking for a place to host the meeting.