This article is an updated version of one published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate. At the time, some forces were thinking about engaging private contractors such as G4S to undertake the duties of Dog Handlers. A combination of poor performance and scandals engulfing the companies concerned has put such a proposition off for the foreseeable future.
However, as Police & Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables reshape their forces to take account of new financial realities, concern is being expressed by many rank and file officers about the perceived focus on reducing “specialists” such as Dog Handlers.
Very few Chief Police Officers have a detailed understanding of how some of their specialist departments operate. Most haven’t spent that long in junior ranks, many have found their niche in planning or development work. Given that you will have been promoted eight times to become a Chief and will have spent at least two, if not three years on the courses that train you to get there, take away the probationary two years and the average time in each rank is about two to three years. Most Dog Handlers have their four-legged partners for seven or eight years, so it’s a safe bet that there aren’t many Chief Police Officers who have been Dog Handlers and some who have little idea how Dog Sections work.
The partnership of human and dog is one that has provided benefits in the law enforcement arena for decades. It is fair to say that this partnership can be achieved quite simply. Once the dog has been trained to undertake the task required, whether it is to search for explosives or track a fugitive, all it needs is a handler (in this case a Police Officer and if you need convincing of that, read on).
If, for example, it is important that the dog is able to be taken at speed across a Police Force area, it is a good idea that the human has been trained to drive quickly, yet safely and is allowed by law to do so. If the dog is needed to act as part of the containment for a severe public order situation, or to keep a street clear during such an incident, it would help if the human was able to be there when that was happening. The same would apply when the dog was being sent into a house as part of a firearms operation. If a Burglar is being chased, it is helpful that the human is able to arrest the criminal when he or she is caught by the dog.
In the Policing context, the dog spends a lot of time waiting to do the things for which it is trained. Not every day will bring the need for an explosives search, a firearms operation, or a burglar to chase. During this time, the dog is relatively cheap to keep. Dog food and visits to the Vet cost a few hundred pounds a year. The Police handler, however, is very expensive. Having the handler doing nothing but go for walks or sit in a van is not at all cost-effective. If handlers are able to patrol the streets or get sent to an incident where he or she can look after the public (even though the dog plays no part in this) it makes them offer much greater value for money.
Those Police Officers drive a van with “Police” written on it, so why not get them to park in a market square or city centre, to get out and talk to people, giving reassurance and stopping badly behaved people getting up to no good. Listening to the Police radio system and going to help a fellow Police Officer who needs reinforcement at an incident, or stopping a suspicious vehicle that he or she sees whilst driving around - there are so many opportunities for Police Dog Handlers to assist in reducing crime and helping communities feel safe.
People who just look at the dog and think they can save money, need to “look at the other end of the lead” for a while. That’s the part of the combination of human and dog that costs the money. It is the Cop holding the lead that makes the difference – use him or her properly and you will get more value than you could imagine.
And the reason I know this? I was fortunate enough to spend nine years as an Inspector on my way up the ladder. I have had dog handlers as part of my team and as a Senior or Chief Officer, I’ve reviewed Dog Sections on a number of previous occasions.
Police Officers who are dog handlers are devoted to their task - and usually not managed or led very well. The moment you give them responsibility, let them demonstrate just how valuable they can be and above all, provide them with some understanding leadership, you will be astounded as to just how much value they contribute to the Policing operation. “Look at the other end of the lead” before taking away the dogs – and use the expensive bit of the partnership more effectively.