Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben chats interacts with those in attendance at an April 26 Coffee With a Cop event at Citizens Bank. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

With an impressive array of doughnut choices and the aroma of fresh coffee in the air, the Philomath Police Department made an appearance a few weeks ago in the lobby of the local Citizens Bank branch.

Known as Coffee With a Cop, the informal gatherings were a common occurrence back before the pandemic. COVID-related restrictions put the kibosh on those events, which Chief of Police Ken Rueben values as an effective way to interact with the public.

“That’s what really caused us to not have these at all for a while because we were having them about once a quarter,” Rueben said. “But we do have National Night Out coming up in August and we have the (Law Enforcement) Chili Cookoff, which is obviously our big event of the year, and that’s scheduled for Sept. 10. And then in the last quarter, in the late fall, we hope to have another one of these.”

Coffee With a Cop, by the way, will not always be an early-morning event.

“The morning one is just based on whether people can stop on their way to work or not and so we don’t get the biggest turnout,” Rueben said. “The ones that we have in the evenings, we get a lot more people.”

Rueben said keeping the lines of communication open is critical and can be especially important for the police to develop relationships with local businesses.

“It’s important to talk about things like we’re talking about today — if we have a crime, what do we want them to do and what kind of information do we need when they call?” Rueben said. “And if they have something suspicious going on, it’s important for them to know that we’re going to answer the phone and respond.”

Ofc. Jim Weikel hands out police badge stickers during Coffee With a Cop. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Rueben knows that on occasion, businesses will shy away from calling in.

“Their No. 1 concern is that they’re suspicious of something and they feel like they’re bothering us if they call, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Rueben said. “So it’s having relationships where people are comfortable calling and they know who’s on the other end of the phone.”

As far as the general public goes, Rueben said police most often hear about traffic issues, which he calls a good thing.

“I’m always happy when people aren’t asking me about crime because that’s the way it used to be,” Rueben said. “I think it’s because now, our crime is so low, which is great news — knock on wood. But we have a lot of construction going on on the highway and speeds in town are always a concern.”

Police Chief Ken Rueben and Citizens Bank’s Brent Kaseman talk during Coffee With a Cop. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Rueben admits that it’s been a challenge in recent months with the police department operating with less than a full staff. Two new recruits have come in — one is headed to the state police academy later this week — and a full-time officer has been on leave.

“When you’re shorthanded like we’ve been for the last year and a half, that’s the No. 1 thing that hurts us the most — being able to do extra traffic enforcement,” Rueben said.

The police roster features Rueben and Lt. Dave Gurski in their leadership positions along with the administrative specialist and seven officers. The city earlier this year hired a part-time code enforcement officer. The reserve officer program also contributes to the workload.

Rueben, Gurski, administrative specialist Shelley Bartlow, officers Jim Weikel and Scott Andrade, and reserve officers Mark Koeppe and Marcia Gilson were among those on hand for the April 26 event.

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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