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Police dogs and handlers lack full training to sniff out crime, report finds

The eastern region police dog trials at Police HQ, Martlesham Heath in 2015  Picture: PHIL MORLEY

The eastern region police dog trials at Police HQ, Martlesham Heath in 2015 Picture: PHIL MORLEY

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Urgent action has been required to ensure police dogs and their handlers receive proper training after a survey found deficiencies.

An audit of the joint Norfolk and Suffolk canine unit found general purpose police dogs and drug dogs had not received the required level of mandatory training last year.

The unit comprised 24 officers and 45 dogs at the time, with a temporary inspector managing functions - in addition to armed policing and in place of a former designated police dog sergeant.

A report said handlers' training was not factored into shift patterns, and that handlers were often taken off training on a call-out to address operational issues.

"Training days do not factor in travelling time, reducing the level of training provided," it said.

An annual risk assessment had not been undertaken to establish the number of police dogs and handlers, while systems for recording the number, usage, training and deployment of police dogs and handlers were not managing the service effectively.

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General purpose dogs and five drug dogs selected for assessment were found to have not received the required amount of training.

Only explosives search dogs, which have set training days and national exercises factored into shift patterns, were found to have received the required level.

However, the constabularies had to cancel the handlers' attendance on the first exercise of this year due to a large amount of dogs being required for royalty and VIP protection around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show.

A Suffolk police spokesman said: "The force is content there is no adverse effect on operational performance. No complaints or negative observations have been received and the director of internal audit was reassured by the chief constable's comments at the [audit committee] meeting."

At the time of the audit, explosives search dog training had been rescheduled, with all handlers booked to take part.

An internal audit progress report recommended a formal action plan to ensure handlers' training requirements are identified, targets set, and mandatory training prioritised over all non-critical call-outs.

A peer review has also been requested by Essex Police for the dog section as a whole, including shifts, training and supervision, while a bid for a designated sergeant has been submitted as a cost pressure through outcome based budgeting.

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