FARMINGTON — Police Chief Jack Peck was tucked into a corner of the Wilton Road Dunkin’ Donuts Thursday morning, a coffee in one hand and a stream of conversation and residents rotating around him.

“I expected complaints,” Peck said.

Instead what he got was conversation about fishing derbies and alpaca farming.

Peck said talking with the public — about anything — is good for the relationship between a police department and its community.

That idea is at the heart of a new outreach program by the Farmington Police Department, Coffee with a Cop. Peck hosted the first session Thursday morning from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Wilton Road Dunkin’ Donuts. The sessions will be hosted by a different officer the third Thursday of every month. They’ll talk with residents about their questions and concerns, or any other topic that pairs well with coffee.

Town residents Thursday greeted Peck as a member of the community who they simply wanted to catch up with.

Sharon and Arnold Borthewick, residents of Farmington since 1984, stayed in Peck’s circle of conversation for about half an hour. Sharon Botherwick and Peck talked about last weekend’s fishing derby on Wilson Lake in Wilton. Borthewick said she heard that the weather was good and that no bass were caught, but a lot of togue instead.

She noticed the stripes on the left sleeve of Peck’s uniform, which symbolize his 27 years with the department and led to the first discussion of crime as Peck mentioned all the changes he has seen over his time in Farmington law enforcement.

“(There were) a lot of changes in the last eight years — technology, crime, heroin (and) pills,” Peck said.

The conversation did not linger on that topic, though, as new people entered into the corner, including two children who popped their heads in between the grownups to wave to Peck.

“I think this is wonderful,” Sharon Borthewick said. Her husband, Arnold, added that the department was doing a good thing by making themselves more visible in the community with outreach opportunities.

“It’s neat to have the kids come in and see them,” he said. “I always felt they are doing a great job.”

When Bob Vallette, former member of the Farmington Budget Committee, entered the conversation, he casually asked Peck, “How’s the budget?”

Peck jumped at the opportunity to tell Vallette that he managed to bring the department’s budget down this year by restructuring the staff. A patrol officer position, vacated last year, had not been filled, and in his 2016 budget proposal, Peck suggested that the position be eliminated and instead a second detective hired.

Peck said he felt the natural flow of conversation was good for discourse between the department and the community, and that is why set agendas or speeches are not a part of Coffee with a Cop.

Coffee with a Cop was started by the Hawthorne, California, police department in 2011 and has taken off nationwide. It even has its own Facebook page with the motto “Building community, one cup at a time.” The page lists events across the country.

The concept has taken off in Maine as well with departments from Auburn to Bangor to Westbrook hosting coffee talks over the past year.

Farmington’s gathering seems to be the first central Maine Coffee with a Cop to draw much of a crowd. Oakland has had two in the past year, but Capt. Rick Stubbert said Thursday they plan another one in the near future. “We didn’t get a huge turnout,” he said. “I’d like it to be bigger.”

Area police have said they see the value in the program.

At the time of the first Oakland event last March, Stubbert said the intent was to have residents interact with police in a situation that doesn’t include a traffic stop, an arrest or a crisis, the times when people are most likely to meet officers.

“We can talk about anything from the Red Sox to what’s happening on their street,” Stubbert said at the time.

Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary, when he took in the job in April 2014, also talked about starting the program.

“I think some members of the community may be intimidated by police or feel uneasy,” he said. “Having just a cup of coffee, you can really get to know people and solve a lot of problems.”

Peck’s final coffee companion Thursday was former Wiscassett police chief turned Farmington resident and alpaca farmer Fulton Butler. Butler agreed with Peck’s choice to open up discussion with the community outside of a department setting.

“Any time a police department can interchange with citizens is a good thing,” said Butler, who left the Wiscassett Police Department in 1976 and now owns Justa Alpaca Farm on Farmington Falls Road. “Police officers can make things as hard or as easy as they want on themselves.”

Butler and Peck were the last two people left in the corner of the cafe when 10 a.m. rolled around.

Despite their shared experiences as police chiefs, the two men were last heard talking about alpacas as they swapped business cards.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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