PINE ISLAND — Jen Hofschulte likes drawing a crowd when she goes out in public.
A deputy with the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office, Hofschulte is the point person for a series of public engagement sessions designed to bring law enforcement out into the public to answer questions, hand out some swag and put a friendly face to the badge.
"A lot of times, the only time people deal with law enforcement is on their worst day," she said. "So, this gives them a different interaction."
On Tuesday morning, Hofschulte and Capt. Chad Steffen greeted diners and visitors at Betty Sue's Better Brew Café in Pine Island. The "Coffee with a Deputy" session is one of many hosted by the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office. In fact, other than when she might be out of town, the law enforcement agency hosts the sessions in different towns around Goodhue County almost weekly.
Seeing deputies outside the café in Pine Island caused a little stir for Sara Parkman and her 9-year-old son, Vincent Prazak.
"We just saw them out here, and he asked can we go meet them, get breakfast and talk to them," Parkman said. "He had that grinning face."
As it happens, she said, Vincent wants to be a law enforcement officer when he grows up, so chatting with Hofschulte and getting a couple Frisbees with the Sheriff's Office logo was a big hit.
"We have military in the family," Parkman said. "His grandpa was a Marine, and it’s what he wants to do."
Aside from some general small talk, Parkman said Hofschulte asked if the mom had any concerns in her neighborhood.
"There are no streetlights on my block, and we talked about that," Parkman said. "But I told her (deputies) drive by a lot."
Brothers Verne Comstock and Manny Comstock, who live in St. Paul and Blaine, respectively, also spotted deputies outside Betty Sue's and decided to investigate.
Verne said at first, as the brothers were returning from an early appointment at Mayo Clinic, they wondered if some trouble had occurred at the restaurant or, worse, if the café was packed with customers.
"Once we saw the sign saying 'Coffee with the Deputy,' we decided to stop," Verne said.
In addition to small talk about the Twin Cities — the brothers learned Hofschulte used to live in the Brooklyn Park area and talked about how that part of the Cities has changed — they also asked about her feelings on the negative impression some people have of law enforcement these days.
“How important is it to have this outreach?” Manny asked rhetorically. “I think all police departments should do something like this.”
In fact, his brother added, the St. Paul Police Department used to have a similar program, but officers who came didn't always seem like they wanted to be there interacting with the public.
Both brothers said their encounter with the deputies in Pine Island had been “very pleasant.”
Verne complimented the deputy’s friendly attitude, and said even if he was on the wrong side of the law, he’d expect to be treated fairly by her.
“I’d assume if I got stopped by her for speeding, I’d probably deserve it," he said. "And she’d write me a ticket without trying to lecture me too much.”