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Towson seeks to put canines, and their walkers, on patrol against crime

Poet, an 8-year-old German shepherd, was training to be a drug-sniffing dog until he flunked his smell test. But his law enforcement career wasn't over.

Through a dog rescue service, he was adopted by Walter McGuire, a Towson sales consultant for Coldwell Banker who is also a volunteer for the Towson Area Citizens on Patrol. Now Poet patrols the streets of Stoneleigh in a custom-made blue vest with "COP" in bright red letters: citizens, or perhaps canines, on patrol.

The Towson Area COP recently began recruiting dogs and their masters to join a new Dog Walker Watch program, hoping that additional feet — and paws — on the street will help deter crime.

Towson's COP was founded in 2000 and has patrols in 26 neighborhoods. Members walk, bike, drive or even jog through the community, looking out for suspicious behavior and reporting tips to police.

Janet Eveleth, spokeswoman for the organization, said the idea of recruiting dog walkers came from members in Towson's Wiltondale neighborhood who began using their dog walks as part of the scheduled patrols. She said she doesn't know of any other COP groups in Maryland that specifically seek dog walkers to join their ranks.

McGuire has been a member of the COP for 22 years and has always walked dogs along the way. He believes dogs can be a crime deterrent, especially when the dog is a large German shepherd.

People "don't know if he's going to hurt them," he said. "Of course he won't, but they don't know that."

Dog walkers are increasingly popular among neighborhood watch groups because they have a regular route and know when something looks odd, said Art Femister, president of the California-based National Association Citizens on Patrol, an advocacy group for such patrols. He said COP groups have also begun recruiting other people who have regular routes, including taxi and truck drivers.

Capt. Jay Landsman Jr., commander of the Towson precinct for the Baltimore County Police Department, said he supports any effort to encourage people to keep an eye out for crime. COP volunteers are trained not to confront people engaged in suspicious behavior but serve as "eyes and ears" in the community.

"The more people out walking around, the better," Landsman said. "And if dog walking is a way to encourage that, great."

Landsman said it's difficult to measure the direct effect of COP efforts because there's no record of how often members report suspicious behavior to police, or how often those calls lead to arrests. Still, police embrace the collaboration. In June, Baltimore County police awarded grants totaling $4,430 to COP organizations in Towson and Loch Raven.

The Towson Area COP uses the money to pay for materials and events such as last week's National Night Out celebration, which included a rally and parade at Towson Marketplace.

The effort to recruit dog walkers comes as Towson anticipates greater foot traffic in the downtown area. Towson is seeing several new developments take shape, including commercial and retail projects and the new 15-screen movie theater at Towson Square that opened last month, and students are returning to area colleges for the fall semester.

Pat France, vice president of Towson Area COP, said she wants "as many people out there [on patrol] as we possibly can."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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