Outlaw and Thor: A Twitter Tail

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Thor and partner Alvin Outlaw, who says he's happy to play a co-starring role to the popular pooch.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Thor and partner Alvin Outlaw, who says he's happy to play a co-starring role to the popular pooch.
Posted: February 18, 2014

WHEN OFFICER Alvin Outlaw left a career in education for one in policing, he thought he had put the days of bringing his work home behind him.

Then, his new police partner from the Netherlands moved into his house without asking.

"Sometimes I have to shut my door when I get dressed for work because he's all over me," Outlaw said of his partner. "He's so excited."

Outlaw's partner is Thor, a 2-year-old German shepherd from Holland. Thor is one of 22 dogs in the Philadelphia Police Department's K-9 Unit - but he's the only one with a rabid social-media following.

In October, while he was still completing police training, Thor joined Twitter. As of today, he has more than 1,200 followers - the second-highest individual following of any officer in the department.

In contrast, Outlaw, Thor's partner, had 53 Twitter followers as of last night.

Thor doesn't let him forget it.

"You just can't stand that you're the Garfunkel of this relationship!" Thor tweeted at Outlaw.

Actually, Outlaw, 38, is happy to take a back seat to Thor and thinks the dog's Twitter account - manned by Sgt. Eric Gripp, the department's social-media guru - is a great way to draw attention to the K-9 Unit.

But Outlaw believes what's more important is that this Twitter account of a dog run by a man pretending to be a dog, in some ways, helps police officers seem more, well, human.

"I think it's something that the Philadelphia Police Department needs: to make people out of the police officers," he said. "I think it's nice that Thor has an opportunity to remind us of our humanity."

'Go bad or go good'

Outlaw, who was born and raised in South Philadelphia, said with a name like his, he had little choice in life: "It was either go bad or go good," he said.

Outlaw chose the latter. Upon graduating with a degree in education from Temple University, he landed a job as a social-studies teacher at University City High School.

"It's an endless job . . . you're a disciplinarian, you're a social worker, and you get to see what all the kids are dealing with at home and the parents who didn't seem interested," he said. "You'd have report-card nights and one parent would show up. It was eye-opening."

Outlaw worked at University City High for two years before taking an administrative job at Gwynedd Mercy University in Montgomery County. That was a grant-funded position, and when the grant ran out, Outlaw said he did some "soul searching." Having always regretted not joining the military, he decided to become a police officer.

In 2007, Outlaw was assigned to the 22nd District, headquartered at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue in North Philly.

"It's one of the most violent districts, so you get a lot a bit of everything," Outlaw said. "It's trial by fire there. Literally."

In January 2013, at his request, Outlaw was transferred to the department's K-9 Unit.

"I wanted to do a different aspect of the job," he said.

Outlaw was paired with Thor, who was purchased with money donated to the department. Thor was introduced to Outlaw's wife, two kids and their shih tzu, Bandit Outlaw. Then, he moved in and declared himself a member of the family.

Policing on four legs

Together, Thor and Outlaw went through 960 hours of training between February of last year and Dec. 23, their first day on duty.

In his few months on the street, Thor has already helped seize 374 grams of heroin, 884 grams of cocaine, 1,553 grams of marijuana and $14,000 in cash, Outlaw said.

Thor's style of policing is high-energy, according to his partner.

"He wants to go to every priority call and he's always ready and willing to work," Outlaw said. "He's definitely the typical rookie who wants to get into everything."

Outlaw is more modest about his role in the partnership.

"I am a chauffeur. They call for him and I help him do his job," Outlaw said. "He's the man, I'm just holding his hand."

But Gripp is holding Thor's Twitter account, @PPDK9Thor.

When a recent snowstorm again threatened to make parking difficult, Thor got in on the Police Department's "#NoSavesies" social-media campaign against saving parking spaces.

"When I'm digging out my parking spot - or a bone - I never leave a lawn chair to mark the spot!" Thor tweeted. "I may lift my leg, but . . . #NoSavesies."

And when a hot piece of tail tweeted her picture at Thor, his response was: "WOOF! Chloe is a good lookin' pooch! Give her my number (It's 911) #puppylove."

Gripp said when he came up with the idea for a K-9 Twitter account, he was just looking for ways to connect with people who might not otherwise follow police on Twitter.

It's worked: Gripp said half of Thor's followers don't follow the Police Department's main Twitter account.

"It's more eyes to look at something that the Police Department may need help with," he said.

Aside from posting police news, quoting Snoop Dogg lyrics, referencing Nicolas Cage movies and creating paws-itively wonderful puns, Thor also tweets tips for handling pets in extreme weather. Most recently, at the suggestion of a follower, Thor started retweeting pictures of lost or missing animals.

Gripp said that sometimes, even he can't believe he's running a dog's Twitter account.

"Being Cyrano de Bergerac to a dog has always been a dream of mine," he joked. "But I'm running out of dog puns. It's sad, sometimes I troll the Internet for new ones.

"But it's been a lot of fun and I think Al has been the perfect ambassador for it."

To donate funds to the Philadelphia Police Department's K-9 Unit, call 215-685-8088.

On Twitter: @FarFarrAway

Online: ph.ly/crime

Blog: ph.ly/Delco

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