Police use dog walkers to watch for crime
Two Oakland County police departments are enlisting pet owners to help keep themselves and their communities safe.
Farmington Hills' Pet Watch and Troy's Woof Watch programs focus on training animal owners to use safety precautions while walking their dogs, as well as ways to recognize and report suspicious activity.
The Pet Watch initiative began in April 2017 as a way to encourage pet owners to take an active role in safety and crime prevention, said Monica Kollar, crime prevention technician at the Farmington Hills Police Department. The idea came from a similar program in Minnesota, she said.
"We know our neighbors. We know what normal looks like in our neighborhood," she said. "If you’re out walking your pets, report suspicious activity."
Both programs offer training sessions for pet owners. Each runs 30-40 minutes and covers what suspicious activity looks like and how to respond, what questions dispatchers from 911 will ask and how people can protect themselves while walking outside.
Troy's Woof Watch program began last year as one of many ways for the public to be active in preventing crime. Police Sgt. Meghan Lehman said the program aims to raise awareness about suspect activity among residents.
"We’re always looking for different crime prevention programs," said Lehman. "A lot of residents want to get involved with the police department in some way."
Pamela Sofferin of Farmington Hills is one of those residents. Sofferin, who volunteers with the police, participated in the program's training sessions and said the initiative is a "terrific idea to enlighten people."
When Sofferin walks her dog around her neighborhood, she watches for unusual activity, such as a car she doesn't recognize slowly driving around the block again and again.
"Any time that the police can come up with an idea to present to the public, it’s a win-win," she said. "I see people walking, and they’re not paying any attention to their surroundings. That’s not good."
Participants aren't supposed to bring pets to either program's training sessions. Those who complete training receive a special bandana with the respective logo for their program.
Kollar says 170 people have attended training sessions and that police have had "quite a few calls about suspicious activity" from people walking their dogs.
The Troy Police Department is working out details for Woof Watch's fall session. The next Paw Watch event will be held at the Farmington Hills Police Department at 6 p.m. Oct. 10.