by Pete Mazzaccaro

Last week, I received two comments and letters from readers that represent the most impossible things to deal with as an editor: requests to educate the public about things that really should require no explanation at all.

The first was an observation by a longtime Hiller and reader that more and more people, in her estimation, have been failing to clean up after their dogs. She said that nearly every time she walks around between her home in West Chestnut Hill and the Avenue, she finds dog poop that the owner failed to clean up. Was there anything, she wondered, that the Local could do?

The second request was an email from another Hiller and reader who said that he was tired of drivers in Chestnut Hill failing to stop or to even slow down at stop signs. As a walker and bike rider, the reader said that he feared for his safety out on Hill streets because, it seems, a driver could plow through a stop sign at any moment, with no regard for whatever or whoever might be in his way. Again, I was asked, what could be done about negligent drivers?

As flattering as it may be that many believe the press still wields the kind of influence that would change the behavior of the public when it comes to following the most basic of civic rules, I had to admit that nothing I could think of would make these petty lawbreakers change their ways.

Think about it: Is there a person who owns a dog who does not realize that the responsible thing to do is to clean up after it? I would have to think that even the average 10-year-old walking dogs for spending money knows what to do if the dog she’s walking needs a bathroom break.

The same is true for drivers and stop signs. Here, it would seem, Philly convention is definitely the roll-through. Something I have to confess I’ve probably been guilty of, too. I’m guessing others have done the same.

But there are those drivers whose roll-throughs rise to a level of aggression and recklessness that can be shocking. I’ve seem my fair share of drivers performing the roll-through at red traffic lights in broad daylight. A lecture from the local newspaper will not reach these people.

The only way to combat these petty misdemeanors is enforcement, the thought of which any Philadelphia resident probably finds pretty funny. When the weekly crime report fills every week with a dozen or so thefts, is it reasonable to expect police to issue $300 fines to anyone who fails to clean up after their dog? I don’t think so.

But enforcement of some kind is the only solution. Anyone who drives north of Chestnut Hill in Springfield Township regularly knows the police force there seems to be dedicated to writing citations to anyone who fails to keep it under 25 mph. There have been days when driving through Springfield that I’ve passed three township officers parked in what, for lack of a better term, I’d call speed traps.

For Hillers to behave better, there needs to be a perceived danger of enforcement. The threat of getting caught is what works in Springfield. Not some greater sense of civic duty.

How can this practically be achieved in Chestnut Hill? Cameras? A local posse of deputized citizens empowered to write tickets to negligent dog owners? It’s hard to imagine any other solution.

For many, the obvious just isn’t obvious. They need an incentive to behave better.