There’s nothing unique about taking the dog to the park for some exercise.
However, when 50 or so residents turned out at Bolsa Chica Park one evening last week, many with their dogs, it was for a different reason.
Organized by the Westminster Police Department, the gathering was scheduled to kick off the department’s Pooch Patrol, an initiative that tasks residents to be on the lookout for potential crime in the neighborhood when they’re out walking their dogs.
Of course, the notion of being on the lookout for suspicious activity applies to anyone, not only dog walkers, said Cmdr. Cameron Knauerhaze, who hosted the event along with Cpl. Scott Gump and Det. Andy Stowers.
Knauerhaze came up with the idea for the Pooch Patrol after noticing large numbers of residents out with their dogs and walking kids to school in the neighborhood.
“Crime is increasing and police officers on the street are decreasing, so we are looking to empower communities,” Knauerhaze told the residents. “We’re here to fight with you. I need you on our team.”
Being mindful of suspicious people and vehicles, taking pictures with cell phones and jotting down notes — all are valuable strategies in thwarting crime, Gump said.
“Your eyes and ears might prevent a future crime,” the corporal said.
The residents in attendance were attentive and asked plenty of questions, everything from what are the most effective alarm systems to how much force they can use to immobilize a burglar on their property.
Among them was Missi Hernandez, who is a member of an active neighborhood watch group and lives in the University neighborhood, just south of the park.
The mother of five said she is already extremely vigilant when it comes to keeping her neighborhood safe.
“They say it is the best neighborhood in Westminster,” Hernandez said. “We want to keep it that way.”
Hernandez offered to help residents in surrounding housing tracts start neighborhood watch groups.
Anita Thomas has lived in the neighborhood just north of the park for 50 years and was appreciative of the effort by the police to engage with residents.
“This is fabulous,” Thomas said. “It just lets you know they care.”
Councilwoman Diana Carey, a 45-year Westminster resident, said programs like the Pooch Patrol are important partnerships for the community to have with the police.
“We need to mobilize our neighborhoods to keep one another safe,” she said.