‘Watch Dogs’ effort trains pooch-walking East Falls residents to assist town-watch group

 A training session for dog walkers who hope to help the East Falls Town Watch Association was held Tuesday night. (Queen Muse/for NewsWorks)

A training session for dog walkers who hope to help the East Falls Town Watch Association was held Tuesday night. (Queen Muse/for NewsWorks)

Residents working to create an East Falls Dog Park have teamed up with the neighborhood’s Town Watch Association to train locals on how to turn daily strolls with their pets into crime-prevention patrols.

The “Watch Dogs” training program provides tips and tools to area dog walkers on how to identify criminal activity in progress, and what to do when they see it.

A ‘force multiplier’

A member of the East Falls Dog Park committee, Claire Stilley said the idea was a no-brainer, considering the group’s recent census revealed that as many as 56 percent of households in East Falls have dogs.

“We realized that that’s a lot of people out there walking their dogs,” Stilley said. “That’s a lot of sets of eyes and ears that, with a little training on what should we be on the lookout for, could be a real force multiplier.

“Town Watch can’t be everywhere. We certainly can’t expect the police to be everywhere, but when you’re out walking your dog two or three times a day, you’re probably gonna be one of the first people who notices if something looks funny.”

Tips from the training session

Jeff Baird of the East Falls Town Watch Association led the group’s first training session at Philadelphia University’s Downs Hall on Tuesday night. He said it was very similar to the training he received prior to joining Town Watch.

“This is really about assisting the community with quality of life issues,” he said.

Baird urged dog walkers to pay attention to their surroundings, and if they observe suspicious behavior, write down the most detailed descriptions they can muster.

He then tested attendees’ attention to detail by showing them a photo for a short period of time and asking them to write what they saw.

East Falls resident Joe Silvent, who aced the description challenge, said he’s a “pretty good candidate” for the job.

“I have a one-year old, very active, very high-energy dog that has me out and about walking around East Falls every day,” he said.

Upcoming events, ongoing efforts

Just a handful of the some 300 dog-park group members were on hand Tuesday, but Stilley said more activities and training sessions will be offered.

“This is just the start of a partnership that will be ongoing,” she said. “It’s a partnership that just makes good sense.”

To acquaint dog-park supporters with one another, and put town-watch training to the test, the group will host “pack walks” on June 8 and 22, both events fall on a Sunday.

Members and non-members alike are invited to the walks which will begin at 9:30 a.m. at McMichael Park, Henry and Midvale avenues.

Information about the next Watch Dog training session will be posted to the East Falls Dog Park page on Facebook.

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