Wednesday, October 18 , 2017, 2:58 am | Fair 63º


Local News

‘Coffee With a Cop’ Connects Santa Barbara Police with Community

Lower Eastside residents come out to talk with officers during SBPD’s informal monthly exchange

With pamphlets and police badge stickers placed atop the fold-up table — and with steaming coffee in hand — three Santa Barbara police officers waited for their first visitors outside the Milpas Street 7-Eleven on a recent weekday morning.

As for who would show up and when, Officer Kasi Beutel couldn’t say.

Per parameters of the “Coffee With a Cop” program, Beutel hadn’t prepared an agenda and merely hoped for casual conversation with some of the city’s Lower Eastside residents — notably more reluctant to approach police than neighbors on the Mesa or downtown.

SBPD has hosted the two-hour, informal outreach gatherings with residents since September 2012, rotating to different neighborhood coffee shops every month or so to promote businesses and to start a dialogue that doesn’t begin by calling 9-1-1.

The Eastside’s obvious disadvantage — besides boasting a high number of Latinos who speak only Spanish — is having no coffee shops.

“It’s always kind of hit or miss,” said Beutel, who is in charge of the program and has assembled at McDonald’s and other venues with little success.

At 8:30 a.m. outside the recently opened convenience store, a Big Gulp-wielding resident kicked off the morning by posing parking questions to Officers Adrian Gutierrez and John Reyes.

John Ahlman, a retired battalion chief with the Santa Barbara Fire Department, strolled up next.

“There’s no fire here,” Gutierrez joked.

“Well, you outnumber the customers at the moment,” Ahlman said, smiling as he eyed the group and then ducked inside for coffee.

Beutel said the officers don’t provide free coffee for residents, although other police departments involved in the nationwide program do. Locals have, however, offered her a cup on the house.

A junior-high student biked by Beutel, who asked why he wasn’t in school.

About the same time, a resident recognized Gutierrez as the Eastside’s Spanish-speaking beat coordinator and stopped to chat on his way inside.

Ahlman conversed with officers, and explained his concerns with safety and traffic as a nearby resident and president of the Eucalyptus Hill Improvement Association.

Officers said concerns vary depending on the neighborhood, such as Mesa residents’ fixation on bus routes.

Turnout differs just as widely, and can be affected by recent events, such as the boost in parent attendance after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Word of the latest coffee gathering must’ve gone out, as several Milpas Community Association members showed up to get the latest scoop on local crime.

“This is the first time we’ve been outside,” said Beutel, who straightened pamphlets that included a guide to the city’s prohibited skateboarding areas.

She said the freebies are displayed to lure folks to the table.

“People are still intimidated by officers,” Beutel said. “Usually that gives me a chance to talk to them.”

The 7-Eleven owner arrived, followed by more police officers, who sometimes stop by.

A resident complimented Beutel on settling a recent dispute at her property, and officers listened to occasional dispatch calls on their radios even though they typically don’t roll out during the morning meet-ups.

Resident Sue Burke said she was concerned with the number of homeless and appreciated a chance to “get a real idea of what’s going on.”

“This is a light turnout,” Officer Kent Wojciechoski said around 9:30 a.m. “We’re here to really help the public.”

Two youths walked up to Reyes to ask questions about becoming a police officer.

When the crowd died down with 30 minutes to go, Gutierrez was still talking to the same resident, Andres Dominguez, who came out because he heard about the program on the radio.

He explained how Gutierrez had checked a disturbance for him recently because the officer had been around the corner and off the clock, wearing flip-flops.

“It’s hard to find police you can trust,” Dominguez said approvingly.

At the two-hour mark, officers began to break down the outdoor table, and Gutierrez headed off to a nearby business to deal with individuals who were panhandling to customers.

The next coffee gathering will likely be at the Daily Grind on Upper De la Vina Street to see which new residents Beutel might draw into the discussion.

“Keep coming to my neighborhood,” Dominguez said, finally heading in to grab his cup of coffee.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >