The long paw of the law

When it comes to de­tec­tive work, our po­lice force owes as much to its ca­nine con­sta­bles and their han­dlers as it does to of­fi­cers on the beat, dis­cov­ers Tessa Waugh

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Lucy Ford and John Mil­lard

When it comes to de­tec­tive work, our po­lice force owes as much to its ca­nine con­sta­bles and their han­dlers as it does to of­fi­cers on the beat, dis­cov­ers Tessa Waugh

AT Etal Lane po­lice sta­tion in New­cas­tle, three dogs are gam­bolling around their han­dler, PC Steve Henry. Po­lice Dog (PD) Rudi, a Bel­gian ma­li­nois, is a three-year-old gen­eral-pur­pose dog—tasked with any­thing from track­ing a sus­pect or stolen goods to grab­bing hold of some­one with a weapon; PD Jack­son, a seven-year-old red cocker spaniel, is a spe­cial­ist dog (known out­side the po­lice as ‘snif­fer dogs’), trained to seek out ex­plo­sives, drugs, firearms and cash; Gerti, a tiny, five-month-old black cocker, is be­ing trained to take over from Jack­son when he re­tires.

‘You can stroke him,’ re­as­sures PC Henry, ges­tur­ing to­wards Rudi. I do so, but gin­gerly, as, although the ma­li­nois—which re­sem­bles a lighter­framed ver­sion of the Ger­man shep­herd—is prized for its train­abil­ity, it can look pretty men­ac­ing, too.

Dog han­dling is a pop­u­lar ca­reer within the po­lice and, as the num­ber of po­si­tions has de­creased re­cently, places are hard won. Each of­fi­cer is tested for suit­abil­ity (you need to be fit, co-or­di­nated and able to use your voice ef­fec­tively) and only then will they be given a young dog of about 18 months with which to em­bark on three months of train­ing.

Each dog is care­fully cho­sen to com­ple­ment the of­fi­cer’s size and tem­per­a­ment and, hav­ing passed the train­ing, of­fi­cer and dog are li­censed and al­lowed out onto the streets.

They quickly form a bond, helped by be­ing rarely apart: the dogs travel in the van on ev­ery shift and go home with the of­fi­cer after work. ‘It’s a big com­mit­ment,’ ad­mits PC Henry, a han­dler for Northum­bria Po­lice for 14 years. ‘My wife will of­ten say “Crikey, he’s al­ways look­ing at his watch” be­cause I al­ways have to get back for the dogs.’

How­ever, po­lice dogs do fit into fam­ily life and quickly un­der­stand the con­cept of be­ing on and off duty. ‘On rest days, we all go out for walks, although you have to go where there aren’t too many peo­ple around,’ ex­plains PC Henry, who worked both at the Olympic and Com­mon­wealth Games with Jack­son. ‘When I’m in uni­form, we’re in the van, driv­ing to the sta­tion or when the sirens are blar­ing, they know we’re work­ing.’

His last gen­eral-pur­pose dog, PD Louis (an­other Bel­gian ma­li­nois), re­tired last year, after 11 years in the job, dur­ing which the dog ‘had my back’ many times, not least when they were sent to find a men­tally dis­turbed woman who’d gone miss­ing in the Der­went Val­ley. ‘We were search­ing near a bridge when he started bark­ing,’ re­calls PC Henry.

‘I rushed along the river­bank to find the lady still breath­ing, half in and out of the water. She was hy­pother­mic and had terrible in­juries from throw­ing her­self from the bridge. I car­ried her back to the road, with Louis bark­ing the en­tire time so that back-up would find us.’ Their ac­tions saved the woman’s life, for which they were awarded the Po­lice Dog Team Op­er­a­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian Ac­tion of the Year Award— pre­sented na­tion­ally—in 2008.

Shifts are di­vided into three over a 24-hour pe­riod—days are usu­ally qui­eter, pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity for train­ing, but nights are full on. ‘Peo­ple start drink­ing, tak­ing drugs, steal­ing,’ elab­o­rates PC Henry. ‘You wouldn’t be­lieve what hap­pens. I was quite naïve when I started and thought ev­ery­one would be in bed.’

‘When I’m in uni­form or when the sirens are blar­ing, they know we’re work­ing

He’s can­did about the im­pact a dog can have: ‘They [the sus­pect] might want to fight ev­ery cop out there, but, when they see a seven-stone Ger­man Shep­herd bark­ing at them, it usu­ally has the de­sired ef­fect and they put their hands up.’ He re­calls a man bran­dish­ing knives on the Tyne Bridge. ‘I chal­lenged him first, but it had no ef­fect, so I let Louis go. He knocked him onto his back, the man dropped the knives and we were able to get the hand­cuffs on.’

PC Stacy Beale of Hamp­shire and Thames Val­ley Po­lice, who re­cently grad­u­ated with her lat­est gen­er­alpur­pose dog, Gem, a po­lice-bred Ger­man shep­herd, points out the need for care when in­struct­ing a dog to grab a sus­pect’s arm—they don’t do it gen­tly. ‘Ev­ery time you use your dog, you have to jus­tify your­self 100%,’ she cau­tions. ‘If you make the wrong de­ci­sion, you’re the one who has to de­fend your­self in court.’

Her first dog, PD Ritzy, a Ger­man shep­herd, was par­tic­u­larly adept at pub­lic or­der. ‘Once, Alder­shot and Wok­ing foot­ball sup­port­ers had a com­ing to­gether after a match and we kept them apart for an hour be­fore back-up ar­rived.’ Now re­tired, Ritzy lives with PC Beale, plus three Dober­mans, PD Gem and a spe­cial­ist dog called PD Grayson, a liver-and white sprocker that found £1,000 of crack co­caine in a bush in Bas­ingstoke last year.

Tenac­ity and deter­mi­na­tion are qual­i­ties that dogs and han­dlers pos­sess in buck­et­loads. Es­sex Po­lice’s PC So­phie Ch­esters and PD Ivy were com­mended for pur­su­ing a bur­glar for three-quar­ters of a mile across a river, be­fore ar­rest­ing the man, who’d taken refuge in a tree. ‘Ivy’s nose was the thing that got them,’ dis­closes PC Ch­esters, whose other dog, a springer, PD Mo, is a foren­sic-re­cov­ery dog de­tect­ing blood, bod­ies and the scent of death.

Sgt Dun­can Suther­land of Scot­tish Po­lice East Re­gion re­ports: ‘Ev­ery­where the Royal Fam­ily goes, I go. I was there be­fore Zara Phillips’s wedding in Ed­in­burgh and when there was a riot in Ge­orge Street be­fore the G8 sum­mit, the dog sec­tion pre­vented car­nage.’

Sgt Suther­land trains gundogs and judges work­ing tri­als and says there’s lit­tle dif­fer­ence in the way gundogs and po­lice dogs are trained. ‘It’s all re­ward based—if they do the right thing, they get a toy.’ At the sta­tion next to Fettes Col­lege, the of­fi­cer dis­plays the sam­ples of Sem­tex, street drugs and cash they use for train­ing. PC Max Hamil­ton is there with PD Chief, a large Ger­man Shep­herd. ‘He’s not the sort you can pat,’ ad­vises PC Hamil­ton, de­scrib­ing a re­cent in­ci­dent in which Chief ap­pre­hended a bur­glar and his loot.

When you go to bed tonight, be thank­ful that PD Chief and his col­leagues are out there, keep­ing vil­lains at bay.

Be­low: PD Gem shows her scary side. Right: For­mer-pd Rudi with PC Steve Henry

PC Henry with (from left) for­mer-pd Rudi, PD Louis, PD Jack­son and new re­cruit Gerti

Above: Work­ing with of­fi­cers, po­lice dogs can help ap­pre­hend flee­ing sus­pects quickly. Top right: PD Grayson, a ‘snif­fer dog’, found £1,000 of crack co­caine in Bas­ingstoke last year. Right: Tools of the trade: the vest of han­dler PC Stacy Beale

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