The role of the dog section is to provide police dog and handler teams to support their colleagues across Northamptonshire.
Police dogs - and their handlers, work in five shifts to cover the 24-hour operation and are available at any time, day or night to support other officers and respond to emergency calls where their unique skills can be used to make Northamptonshire safer. Typical jobs in the evening may include tracking a burglar from the scene of a break-in, or an offender who de-camps from a stolen car following a pursuit.
The dogs and handlers have a variety of skills.
Northamptonshire Police have ten German Shepherd dogs who carry out general duties with their handlers. They have a range of skills including:
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- Searching for suspects and missing people
- Locating objects dropped or concealed during a criminal incident
- Following a track left by a person on the ground
- Chasing and detaining a person who runs away when challenged to stop
- Disarming violent armed suspects and controlling hostile crowds
Other dogs have more specialist skills and are trained to find specific scents. Northamptonshire Police have 4 Spaniels and 3 Labrador dogs. 3 Spaniels and 1 Labrador are trained to detect the presence of illegal drugs, and will search buildings, gardens, and cars - just about anywhere - to find them. The same dogs are also trained in weapons recovery, and can help locate hidden firearms. 1 Spaniel and 2 Labrador dogs specialise in searching for explosives, and they are routinely used prior to any VIP visit at major events.
If not involved in dog related tasks, officers on duty get involved in other policing work, leaving the dogs to rest.
Dogs are bought from reputable local breeders as puppies, and then given to voluntary Puppy Walkers who take care of the dog for the next 12 - 14 months, when the dogs are taken back into the Force for their training.
Training typically takes between 8 and 12 weeks for German Shepherds and 6-7 weeks for Spaniels and Labradors, with top up training of up to 16 days per year. Dogs retire from active duty at about 8 years old, at which stage the dogs are found a loving home to enjoy their retirement.
While in the Force, dogs live at home with their handlers, although not in the home with the family and domestic pets. Usually, they will be kept in a kennel of about 8 x 4 ft in size, being walked up to four times per day, and enjoying regular and healthy meals.
"It is important that these dogs are kept keen and sharp, so we cannot allow the chance that they become mollycoddled the way some domestic pets may be."
The dogs are also not encouraged to mix with members of the family, although, as Mark says, they are well-behaved and quite capable of mixing children.
"Police dogs are not 'dangerous' or 'scary' as some may believe, but they need to be treated with respect. It is also very important that they know who is in charge, and that they don't get attached to anyone except their handler. This is why they are kept separate from the family."
Dogs were first introduced into the Force in the mid 1960s, and despite the improvements in crime-busting technology, dogs are becoming increasingly important, with their role getting more and more appreciation.
"Dogs are responsible for about 250 arrests a year, and for a large percentage of the drugs confiscated, so their value cannot be overestimated."
Dog handlers begin as a PC, and then apply for a job in the dog-handling unit. If selected, they undergo a 12-week course with a general-purpose dog. After about two years, when both are well trained and have established a strong partnership, the handler can take the option of a specialist dog. This requires further training and an additional dog.
Being a dog handler is a popular choice for many officers, and those who join the section are assured of a fulfilling career. Mark says the dog handlers are very committed and really enjoy their work.
"Being a dog handler is a really varied and interesting job, It's a great combination of specialist police work and front-line policing."