A number of leading frontline police officers and commentators have expressed their fears for public safety after a series of announcements by police forces that they plan to cut police dog unit numbers as part of desperate measures to save money.
The cuts to police budgets, imposed by the Government, have led to senior police officers from forces around the country looking for any means they can to reduce budgets and cut costs wherever possible.
This week, Essex Police have announced they will reduce their canine unit capability by 12 dogs, almost half of their existing number. An announcement is expected shortly from the Avon & Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire forces that they plan to merge services and cut their dog numbers back to just 48 across all three policing areas.
Former Metropolitan and Yorkshire police officer, now author and policing issues spokesman Mike Pannett said “The Government and Police Chiefs consistently repeat that cutbacks are not affecting the frontline. This is simply not true, and none more so than with regard to police dogs”. “The UK Home Office have failed with overview”
“The public will be shocked to hear that many forces have already dramatically reduced their number of police dogs. Greater Manchester Police for instance used to have over 130 handlers, they now have just 36 with a loss of around 130 dogs in less than 7 years. West Yorkshire Police have almost halved their dog numbers recently and West Midlands police have lost another five dog handler jobs this year”
“Cambridgeshire recently reduced their number of dog handlers from 29 to 18 and cut the number of actual dogs by around 25. Like many other forces now, they no longer have any dogs on duty after 4am.”
“The huge counties of Avon and Somerset, Gloucester and Wiltshire plan to share 48 dogs, an impossible arithmetic task to maintain 24 hour cover, seven days a week. The reality means one of two dogs at a time shared between three counties covering thousands of square miles and protecting millions of people”
North Wales Police have lost 25% of dog handlers and operate this huge area with 9 handlers in total. South Yorkshire Police are on the verge of cutting around half its section.
“Police dogs are not a specialist role, they are a fundamental part of modern day frontline policing” added Mr Pannett. It’s taken years to build up “best breeding” which produce the best police dogs in the world! Decimated.
Despite a recent survey, promoted via social media site Twitter suggesting that over 97% of people think there should be more police dogs on the streets not less, police bosses continue to appear convinced that reducing the number so police dogs available is a viable way to cut costs without affecting policing capabilities, leading many to declare that making these announcements now is akin to declaring a Happy Christmas for Criminals.
Following this survey, a campaign on Twitter to highlight the plight of police dogs using the hashtag #DontDitchTheDogs was declared a resounding success after trending as the most popular subject in the UK within minutes and remained so for over an hour, gaining more comment than I’m A Celebrity, and resulting in one Sunday newspaper declaring the efforts an ‘internet sensation’.
“Police dogs track down criminals 24 hours a day. They find vulnerable missing people who would otherwise die of exposure, they recover millions of pounds worth of drugs and search thousands of buildings and venues for explosives” said Mike Pannett
With the cuts made so far, the operational reality is that it officers can be waiting an hour of more for a dog to arrive at the scene of a burglary. Experts will tell you that after this length of time, the scent will have gone and the trail will be cold meaning officer on the ground will have little to no chance of tracing the suspects. This is simply not acceptable”.
“Add to that the health and safety implications to both the dogs, their handlers and the general public if officers are having to race backwards and forwards across counties on blue lights to get from one job to the next. The risk of accidents is being increased many times over”
As a result of police officers concerns, Mike Pannett has laid down a challenge to Senior Officers and Police and Crime Commissioners to debate publicly the proposed cuts to police dog and handler numbers.
“I will debate with anyone who wants to try and rationalise that these cuts to police dogs will not affect public safety and will not negatively affect the detection of crime and apprehension of offenders because they will, and they are.”
“I’m dreadfully worried that the majority of Police and Crime Commissioners, most of whom have no operational policing experience are relying on advice from people who do not themselves understand the implications, and are naively signing off these awful decisions without fully appreciating the consequences of their actions. “