McGruff the Crime Dog is getting more and more company across the nation to help him take a bite out of crime.
In communities from suburban Philadelphia to Houston to Seattle, residents are being instructed on how to turn their morning or evening walks with their canine companions into an opportunity to keep their streets safe.
“There are millions of dog walkers around the country,” said National Association of Town Watch Executive Director Matt Peskin, creator of the program, in a press release in April. “Through Dog Walker Watch, we hope to convert many of those walkers to ‘extra eyes and ears’ for local police and sheriff’s departments. Dog walkers can be an extremely valuable resource in helping to make our communities safer.”
Peskin added that dog walkers are out at all hours of the day and in all types of weather – and they know who belongs in their neighborhood.
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Modestans will have an opportunity Tuesday to learn how to effectively observe and report crime when out walking the dog – or just out walking, period.
“It’s kind of like a Neighborhood Watch meeting, but for people out walking dogs,” said Rosie Garcia of the Modesto Police Department Crime Prevention Unit. She’ll help lead the meeting, which is at the Modesto Dog Park, at Enslen and Morris avenues, at 6 p.m.
Residents will learn how to best help dispatchers and officers respond to possible criminal action, Garcia said. For example, when calling 911, know the block number of the street you’re calling from, or the nearest cross street. Beyond saying a suspect is in a white car, be able to say that it’s two- or four-door, is missing a hubcap, or has some other distinguishing feature. If you can read the model, or catch some or all of the license plate number, note it.
Garcia shared a bit more about Tuesday’s program, at which dogs are welcome and hot dogs will be served.
What instruction – just a few examples – will you be providing dog owners?
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of dog walkers throughout the community who are often preoccupied with texting, chatting, emailing and phone calls during their neighborhood walks. We recommend that citizens definitely take their phones with them on their walks but to be observant of their surroundings. Dog Walker Watch trains these individuals on how to effectively observe suspicious behavior, such as someone slowly walking and looking into parked vehicles, and how to be a good witness and report criminal activity.
What are some of the “don’ts” you’ll be sharing, for crime observers’ safety?
Don’t take the same walking route every day; change up your routine. Don’t be preoccupied on your phone while walking. Don’t put yourself in danger if you see suspicious activity or a crime occurring. Stay calm, call it into dispatch and be a good witness.
In my neighborhood, I frequently see people out in the morning, walking alone or in pairs or small groups. How does the instruction you’ll be giving dog walkers apply to folks simply out walking?
The information is basically the same information we give at Neighborhood Watch meetings and good across the board whether you’re a walker, jogger or walking your dog. We need to be visible out in our neighborhoods so criminals know that there are eyes and ears everywhere and that we care about our community.
Some cities have established Dog Walker Watch programs, with members who sign up and meet regularly. Is that the goal here?
Every year, Modesto participates in National Night Out, which is promoted by National Association of Town Watch, who is also promoting Dog Walker Watch. We felt that the Dog Walker Watch program would be another avenue to educate the community in crime prevention techniques, how to be a good witness and to bring neighbors together, because when neighbors know each other they know who belongs in their neighborhoods and watch out for one another.