CADILLAC — Dog owners know their communities well, strolling the streets daily as they tend to Rover’s needs.
In Big Rapids, they’re about to be tapped as a sort-of low-key alarm system. The police department is launching a dog walker watch program. The dogs have little to do with it.
“The training is real basic. It’s just teaching people some awareness, to kind of pull their nose out of their phone when they’re walking around,‘ said Big Rapids Police Department Community Relations Officer William Sell. “People know their communities best. They’ll know when something suspicious has occurred or a door is open or something, to let us know.‘
The Dog Walker Watch training program comes from the National Association of Town Watch (you might know the organization as the one that’s behind National Night Out).
Matt Peskin, NATW’s director, said 2,088 communities participate in the 5-year-old dog walker watch program.
When the program was first rolled out, some police chiefs worried about liability — what if dogs attacked?
“This program has nothing to do with the dog,‘ Peskin said. “It’s the person.‘
Dog walkers know their communities well and usually carry a cell phone. That’s all to the benefit of patrol officers who can’t be everywhere at once.
Robert Milligan, a community policing officer for the police department in Hazel Crest, Illinois, a predominantly Black Chicago suburb of approximately 14,000 to 15,000 people, said the community has been very receptive to the program.
Good tips have come out of the program in the three years Milligan has been running the program for Hazel Crest; it also serves as a bridge between the department and the community because people can be apprehensive about talking to the police, Milligan said.
“So far, so good. It’s been going great,‘ said Milligan, who said he’s taken several calls from communities that are interested in launching their own dog walker watch programs.
NATW has been involved in crime watch programs since the 1980s. The dog walker watch program typically attracts a different kind of participant than a regular neighborhood watch program, Peskin said.
“It’s been great for the organizers, particularly local law enforcement because it brings a whole new group of people into programs like this,‘ Peskin said.
There are social benefits, too.
“You know, dog people love dog people, that’s just the way it is,‘ Peskin said. “It’s a unique group of people that have stuff to talk about. So neighbors meet neighbors. And once neighbors meet neighbors, communities become a little safer. It has its benefits in addition to just the reporting of one single crime.‘
The Cadillac News reached out to Cadillac Public Safety Director Adam Ottjepka to find out if Cadillac has considered a program like a dog walker watch program.
“We are always looking for creative ways to engage with citizens by partnering in ways that make the community safer,‘ Ottjepka said in an email. “We will assign an Officer to connect with BRPD and see about attending this training to determine if we believe this program may be of benefit to Cadillac.‘