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Cops grab coffee with community


Amidst the morning buzz of Peet’s Coffee & Tea on Northwest Cornell Road last Thursday morning, Hillsboro Police Chief Lee Dobrowolski answered questions about night biking safety from a woman concerned about unintentionally hitting bikers.

Dobrowolski is going to make this scene a common one with the police department’s participation in a new program called “Coffee with a Cop.” It’s a U.S. Department of Justice campaign to connect community members with police officers in coffee shops for informal conversations, from raising kids to pull-over protocol for emergency vehicles.

At least those were some of the conversations happening last week during the inaugural coffee talk.

“It’s a nice, casual opportunity for us to meet the public and for them to meet us and not to be intimidated by the uniform,” explained Dobrowolski.

“It was surprising,” said Beaverton resident Mark McCorkle, who frequents Peet’s on Thursdays with his wife Caroline. “We talked to the chief of police — wow!”

McCorkle said he often sees police officers in Peet’s, and isn’t shy about asking questions.

However, some residents find the uniform a conversation stopper. Police Crime Prevention Specialist Earleen Reimann remembers the first time she started approaching people downtown. She noticed a discomfort in their reactions that she thinks was brought on by her uniform. Now people are so used to seeing her that they’ll ask where she’s been if she doesn’t show up.

“They’re more comfortable. They’ll tell me what’s going on,” Reimann said of the people she engages with. “We have a dialogue now that we didn’t have before.”

Hillsboro police hope Coffee with a Cop will bring out this casual dialogue, and in turn help crime prevention. By discussing with civilians what’s unusual and what’s normal, Reimann said police will learn what to look for in neighborhoods.

“Why we’re here is to find out what are the concerns,” Dobrowolski said.

Among the current hot crime issues facing Hillsboro are theft and graffiti, which takes a joint effort that involves civilian prevention and police proactivity to combat, Dobrowolski said, adding that he encourages people to take valuables out of their vehicles to prevent theft.

And to combat graffiti, Hillsboro police officers work undercover to try and catch perpetrators.

There’s no rule about what can and can’t be asked over coffee at the public events, but Dobrowolski said he’ll start assigning themes to coffee meet-ups — such as traffic safety — to help educate the public.

Dobrowolski said he wanted to start the program in Hillsboro after a successful run with it in Salt Lake City, where he served before taking the chief’s job in Hillsboro in March.

While Coffee with a Cop will be featured every other week at coffee houses across Hillsboro, Dobrowolski plans on showing up at least quarterly. Although others might be drinking specialty lattes or other brews, the chief will be the one with a cup of plain coffee in his hand, something he got used to during his time on duty in Utah.

“I had to,” he said, laughing at the memory of working the graveyard shift in Salt Lake City. “There’s not a whole lot of places to get a latte at four in the morning in Salt Lake.”