Looking At The Wrong End Of The Lead?

This article was published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate


Press coverage of suggestions that Cambridgeshire and other Police Forces may engage G4S to undertake the duties of Dog Handlers – presently undertaken by Police Officers – have received a predictable reaction from rank-and-file Officers.

My views on the tender document issued by the West Midlands and Surrey Police Authorities (which North Yorkshire’s Authority has joined in this regard) seeking providers of  everything from Neighbourhood Patrol to Major Incident Investigation were made some weeks ago.

On this occasion, there is a point that may have been overlooked by those who are seeking to use this solution as a means of achieving financial savings.

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 (the human). The human may be employed by anybody. Whether the employer is a Police Service or a security company makes no difference.

What does make a difference, however, is what the human can do apart from look after a dog.

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 human, however, is very expensive. Having the human doing nothing but go for walks or sit in a van is not at all cost-effective. If the human is 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 the human offer much greater value for money.

For the human to drive a van with “Police” written on it, to park in a market square or city centre, to get out and talk to people, gives reassurance and stops badly behaved people getting up to no good. A human who is listening to the Police radio system and who goes to help a fellow Police Officer who needs reinforcement at an incident, or who stops a suspicious vehicle that he or she sees whilst driving around assists 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 human 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’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.