Ken Rueben wants every citizen of Philomath to be comfortable interacting with law enforcement.
A phone call to the police, or even a casual exchange on the street, shouldn’t be accompanied by stress. Rueben, Philomath’s chief of police, believes events like Aug. 6’s National Night Out help community members build positive relationships with law enforcement.
“It’s great for us,” Rueben said at Philomath City Park as families began to trickle in for the two-hour event. “It gets all the public service agencies out here in one place for people to come out and ask questions in an informal environment.”
Well over 100 people, many of whom were kids, turned out to mingle with police officers, firefighters and representatives from other organizations, including the Oregon National Guard. The attendees were treated to a free fried chicken dinner, drinks and cookies on a pleasant, windy evening at the park.
Games and activities for kids ranged from a rock climbing station to hosing down a fake burning building. Pettable horses and police dog Percy, a chocolate Labrador retriever, were also popular figures.
Fire & Life Safety Captain/EMT Rich Saalsaa noticed several oohs and aahs as young people looked at the array of emergency service vehicles.
“I think it’s great for the kids to get out and reach and touch things,” Saalsaa said. “And it’s always a tremendous community event to pull people together and into one place. That’s what I love about Philomath.”
The first National Night Out, held in 1984, was celebrated by about 2.5 million people in 400 communities across 23 states. The campaign’s mission is to promote police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make cities safer and more caring places to live.
As of last year, an estimated 38 million people attended one of 16,000 National Night Out community events. Seventy-six cities in Oregon participated in 2018.
“Oregon is a much more personal place for law enforcement to be. We just don’t have that same contentiousness that you see in other places of the country, and it’s great,” said Rueben, who has been with the Philomath Police Department since 2014. “I think most citizens are very comfortable calling the police in Oregon and coming out and talking to us and asking any tough questions they might have.”
Philomath held its first National Night Out in 2006 and the event permanently moved to City Park in 2014. An indoor shelter was built at the park the same year, offering the perfect space to bring the community together.
Saalsaa, a transplant from Salt Lake City, also moved to Philomath five years ago. He enjoys the community’s small-town feel.
“I lived in Salt Lake City for 23 years and hardly knew my neighbors,” Saalsaa said. “The cohesiveness of this community, neighbors knowing neighbors, that’s a big deal. … It actually helps quite a bit because if people need help, they’ve got the community to rally behind them.”
The Philomath Police Department regularly hosts events to interact with community members.
The annual Public Safety Chili Cook-Off is scheduled for Sept. 8 and is put on by volunteers, just like National Night Out. The Police Department also hosts Coffee with a Cop, a casual morning meet-up, every quarter.
“We come with doughnuts and coffee and people show up and hang out with us, have coffee, ask questions,” Rueben said. “People want to know what crime is going on around town, and luckily for us crime is drastically down.”
Rueben credited Philomath Police Department administrative assistant Shelley Bartlow and volunteer Marcia Gilson for putting the community’s National Night Out together. He also thanked local businesses for donations.
Along with the police, Benton County Sheriff's Department Posse, Oregon National Guard, Philomath Fire & Rescue, Philomath Youth Activities Club, Philomath Community Library, Philomath Police Foundation, Philomath Community Services, and Philomath Gleaners were all in attendance.