Elizabeth Petre and her dog, Winnie, don’t look like typical crime fighters.
Petre, 71, and the fluffy white Havanese — 4 in dog years — regularly go on 3- and 4-mile treks in Mukilteo.
“I’m trying to get in my 10,000 steps a day,” Petre said. “So Winnie and I are always out and about walking.”
The pair will now put their daily jaunts to good use by enlisting in the Mukilteo Police Department’s newest crime-prevention team: Paws on Patrol. It’s a sort of Neighborhood Watch on four, er six legs.
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Patrol members are instructed to keep a watch out for suspicious activity — and to call in reports — while taking their dogs for walks around the city.
Police Officer Colt Davis led the patrol’s first training session Tuesday in a patch of shade in front of the Mukilteo City Hall. Ten pet owners were gathered, accompanied by dogs perched in laps, secured in purses or panting on the ground.
Winnie, named after the Winnebago camper owned by Petre and her husband, Craig, sat near pooches like Cinnamon, a large German Shepherd, and Piko, a 9-week-old Chihuahua that fits snugly in the palm of her owner’s hand.
Davis instructed the human attendees on how to spot suspicious behavior, and on the most helpful information to give when making a 911 call. Their canine counterparts panted in the heat and sniffed each other suspiciously.
Davis told participants to be detailed when they call 911 and not to hesitate to report.
“If it makes the back of your neck tingle, you should call,” he said.
Davis instructed Paws on Patrol members not to intervene in a crime for their own safety.
“This isn’t about stopping criminals and shouting: ‘Paws on Patrol. You’re under arrest!’ ” Davis told the trainees. “It is not about that or doing anything you’re not comfortable with. It’s about just being aware and reporting what you see.”
The patrols are expected to walk their normal routes but may receive updates about things to look for when the police department notices trends in crime in their area.
Each of the dogs will receive a special Paws on Patrol bandanna. .
Davis came to the idea for Paws on Patrol from the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), a nonprofit organization of citizen watch groups and creators of National Night Out. The association started the first Dog Walker Watch program six months ago in a Philadelphia suburb.
“There are 75 million dog owners in this country. That is a huge resource,” said Matt Peskin, executive director for NATW and the program’s founder. “We started the program with about 25 dog owners, and it has grown really quickly. There are very distinct groups of ‘dog people’ that I think help get the word out.”
Now more than 500 groups nationally have signed up for Dog Walker Watch programs. According to Peskin, about half those groups are police departments.
The Des Moines Police Department began its own version of the program in June.
“We have already gotten calls from dog walkers,” Des Moines police spokeswoman Officer Tonya Seaberry said. “One lady called in just the other day to report a bunch of bike parts sitting in the park.”
Des Moines’ program began with 13 dogs and owners, but a new member joins about once a week, Seaberry said.
Cindy Weyers, a Mukilteo resident and owner of Eeyore the beagle, decided to participate after she read a notice in the paper.
“I walk my dog every evening through Mukilteo Elementary and Olympic View Middle School,” Weyers said at the training.
She said she has often questioned whether or not to call police on her nightly walks.
“I saw a bunch of kids skateboarding on the roof of the school,” Weyers said. “I’ve smelled gas leaks. I even saw a fire on the playground, which I reported. But so often in those situations you ask yourself ‘Should I call the police?’ because you just don’t know.”
Davis said that helping people to feel comfortable contacting police when they think something might be wrong is a primary mission of Paws on Patrol.
He told those at the training session that 95 percent of crimes police investigate were first reported through a citizen’s phone call.
“Most people think that we are too busy,” Davis said in an interview. “If someone sees, for instance, a person in a neighborhood walking around lifting car handles, they might not think to take the step and make the call. This program encourages them to do that.”
Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson attended the Paws on Patrol kickoff and commended the program as a way to curb crime.
“We had 140 burglaries last year,” Gregerson said. “Only 10 occurred in neighborhoods with a block watch.”
Davis hopes the program will grow to include more dogs and owners covering Mukilteo.
“But in the end, if there is just one person that calls 911 and reports something because of the program,” he said, “I would consider that a big success.”
Erin Heffernan: 206-464-3249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.