A new national program is encouraging watchdogs to take a bite out of crime in their local neighborhoods.
"There are millions of dog walkers around the country," recently wrote Matt Peskin, National Association of Town Watch executive director and creator of Dog Walker Watch. "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."
Newark resident Mike Serna walks his 3-year-old German Shepherd from his house on Landes Place to LaSalle Drive between Cherry Street and Fountaine Avenue up to three times a week.
"I dearly love my dog," he says of Luna, who he adopted three months ago. "She is a wonderful animal and we go for walks, and I'm community-service oriented. So here's a wonderful opportunity to virtually kill two birds with one stone."
Serna joined Dog Walker Watch after hearing about it from Tim Jones, special assistant of Newark Police Department's Community Engagement Division, and Community Engagement Manager Donna Shearn during a Neighborhood Watch captains' meeting.
"People who walk their neighborhoods regularly know what's going on in their neighborhood, and they have a good idea who belongs and who doesn't," Jones says. "So they're going to be the first ones to know if something is out of place far better than an officer driving by in a black and white."
Newark Police Department joined Dog Walker Watch just a few weeks ago, Jones explains, after the National Sheriffs' Association sent him a bulletin about it.
"Dog Walker Watch is just kind of a name that has come up," Jones adds. "...We're looking for anybody who is out walking, running, jogging, riding a bike, walking a dog."
Newark Police Department has held meetings with its 45 Neighborhood Watch groups, and has more scheduled to get the word out. In addition, they have shared information through Facebook and the department's website, and "it's going to be on the freeway billboards on the two major throughways in the city pretty quick," Jones adds.
—... I don't think there is such a thing as too many people looking out for the welfare of their neighborhood," Jones says. "Right now we're really small and just getting going. We have, I think, five people signed up."
This includes Serna, a casual walker, to Mary Florio, who runs her dog, 8-year-old boxer mix Capone, six miles every day.
"We're not asking people to do anything out of the ordinary with this program," Shearn says. "We're trying to let them know they can be involved in the community and to not feel afraid to phone the police department if they do see something that's unusual to them."
Dog Walker Watch trains these individuals on how to effectively observe and report criminal activity.
"We just had a training two weeks ago with our initial group," Jones says, explaining it included a PowerPoint presentation from the National Sheriffs' Association giving a basic outline. Shearn's 27 years with Newark Police Department rounds out the program, explaining how to stay safe on the street.
"There's no apprehension. There's no tracking down. There's no stalking," Jones emphasizes. "It's just if you're out and about and see something that's out of place in your neighborhood, continue down the street to a safe distance and call us, and let us come and figure out what the problem is."
Serna takes his walks carrying an inexpensive recorder.
"So if I'm walking along and I see a car with a couple of people that don't look right, I will pick it up like I'm talking on the phone and say black Chevy, four door, license plate number, time of day, things of that nature," he says. "I am out there primarily from my own point of view to keep an eye on the neighborhood, whether it be property or children in jeopardy."
Jones believes there is a direct correlation between Newark activity and crime awareness programs such as this, its newest, one.
"We're down 42 percent in residential burglaries from 2013," Jones said. "It's a huge number and it's a direct result of people getting involved and taking back their neighborhoods, for lack of a better term."
For more information or to sign up for Dog Walker Watch, contact Tim Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 578-4209.
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Shannon Carr is a freelance writer and former Milpitas Post reporter. She is now the communications and social media specialist at Morgan Autism Center.