A Day In The Life – Parading at Park Lane Police Depot, Saturday June 2nd 2012, Tour of Duty – 08:00 to 17:00
Apologies for the lack of posts over the past couple of weeks, I’ve just moved house and didn’t realise that my ISP’s definition of ‘five days’ for reconnection might be very different from that used by everyone else!
Dogs. More specifically, police dogs. They bark, they bite criminals and they sniff out cleverly hidden drugs. Is this the reality though? Today I spent a shift with one of our own dog units to find out.
Our dog units work from three central ‘hubs’ and so early in the morning I headed over to the police base at Park Lane, Aston, for parade. Having never been to Park Lane before I try a succession of wrong doors before eventually finding one with ‘dog unit’ written on it and stumbling in.
I’m met by Sgt. Cannings, in charge of the team of dog handlers on the early shift, who introduces me to everyone and gives a quick overview of what our dog handlers do.
I’ve obviously worked alongside the dog handlers whilst out and about in Walsall but even so, within ten minutes I’m being told all sorts of things about how to identify breeds of dangerous dogs that I was previously unaware of – it’s a complicated topic and it’s clear the dog handlers have some great expertise.
The West Midlands Police dog unit has roughly fifty officers working on it and one hundred dogs. Dog handlers are usually single crewed and drive around in high powered, specially adapted Skodas, often at eye watering speeds thanks to their advanced driving grades.
I’m to be crewed up with PC Simon Horton, an officer of twenty seven years experience and a dog handler for over a decade, who is going to show me what the department does so after a quick drink we head down to the garage to meet the stars of the show – the dogs themselves.
Approaching the garage we can hear the dogs talking to each other in the back of the patrol cars. Bark! Bark! Bark! one of them says, only for another to reply Bark! Bark! Growl! and so on. They’re obviously eager to hit the streets so without further delay we set out on patrol.
Simon has two police dogs that that both work and live with him – Thai, who he uses to chase and control offenders, and Beau, his drugs dog. The dog handlers get a small allowance to cover the maintenance costs associated with keeping the hounds but as Simon quite rightly points out, it’s a full time job and he never gets, or seems to want, a break from it.
It’s not long before we get our first job, a request from officers in Erdington to search a house of a suspected drugs dealer, and so having arrived Simon gets Beau out of the cage and lets her into the house.
Needing no encouragement, Beau instantly starts to sniff every corner of the house with her tail enthusiastically wagging away. We check all of the rooms of the house and the garden too (see the below video) but don’t find anything so are able to feed back to the officers that the house appears to be clear.
There’s no such thing as a standard police dog – each one has its own personality and also, its own specialty – just like their human colleagues.
Alongside the drugs dogs and the scary ones that bark/chase/bite criminals (in that order), there are also dogs that have been specially trained to sniff out guns, cash, bodies or explosives.
Everybody knows about what a good sense of smell dogs have and as many criminals have found out, you can’t really out run a police dog. Those that have tried, or even just thought they could hide from them, often find not only that they can’t but also that having tried they now have an angry police dog dangling from their arm and refusing to let go.
Not being needed at the house, we float down to Balsall Common, Solihull, to check in at the kennels. This is where our police dogs are sourced from with a breeding program in operation specifically for police dogs. It’s also where police dogs are boarded if their owners go on holiday.
The dogs that are fit to be trained for work with the police are identified from an early age and at around the age of one and a half start of training program lasting several months. Each year they are tested so that they are ‘licensed’ to be police dogs.
Shortly after arriving we’re called away again, this time being asked to attend a house where a neighbour has phoned to say that he thinks a break in is taking place. As I mentioned earlier, Simon is an advanced driver and so we arrive in no time at all with the dogs barking away happily in the rear.
The idea of being called is that Thai could help track any offenders who have run off or alternatively, help search gardens and other open areas for burglars. We speak to the local officers but it is apparent there hasn’t been a break in and so we resume patrol, heading back towards Birmingham.
After a few similar calls we drift our way towards an old factory used by the dog handlers to train their dogs in. We meet up with Sgt. Cannings again and watch as another handler dons an armoured sleeve and allows Thai to attack him. It’s a frightening sight and I’d certainly not want to be on the receiving end of a bite from Thai as his teeth are rather sharp and what’s more, he won’t let go until Simon tells him to!
A quick bite to eat follows and we’re then called to help officers in Saltley deal with a man who is reported to have a knife. This is exactly the sort of job that the dog handlers can be really useful at, being able to disarm the male without risking officers getting hurt.
Thankfully when we arrive the man has been talked out of doing anything silly and so we tell Thai that he won’t be needed this time round. Every time the sirens go on the dogs seem to get excited and whilst it may be the noise, I think they secretly listen to the police radio and so know what jobs they’re going to in advance!
A few similar jobs come in and between them, Simon tells me all sorts of things that I never realised about what the dogs can do. The amount of specialist knowledge held by the dog handlers seems incredible and judging from the dangerous nature of the jobs they’re often caller to, it’s certainly not a role for the faint hearted.
Towards the end of the shift Thai and Beau quieten down a little, probably from all the excitement of speeding around Birmingham, and so after giving them a quick run around at the Tally Ho training centre we head back to Park Lane to hand the keys over to the late shift.
Although the dogs don’t offer to help, Simon gives the car a quick wash down and then Thai and Beau hop into his own car for the ride home.
The dog unit is one of those that many people dream of joining and that some people will become police officers because they find its work so attractive. The dog handlers are first are foremost dog people – they adore their dogs and adore the work they do.
Being a dog handler isn’t all foot chases and finding stashes of drugs but walking from Park Lane back to the train station I found myself thinking how fortunate we are as officers to have them on hand – they’re an incredibly professional, dedicated lot and not only this, their dogs often take chunks out of criminals which is a very pleasing sight indeed!
The above video shows Beau literally following her nose on the hunt for drugs.
Police dogs aren’t all fierce – tell me honestly that your heart didn’t melt watching this video…
Like to see a few more photos from the day? Check out the full Facebook gallery here where you’ll find plenty more pics of Beau, Thai and more.