Working with Humberside Police Force has been a regular, illuminating and hugely rewarding feature of my year as High Sheriff. At the beginning it was difficult to imagine the many and diverse facets of their operations I would experience,from fast car patrols, exploring the night economy of our largest City, Hull, the work of the marine section and participating in awards and commendation ceremonies with the Chief Constable. One of the most fascinating activities was the police dog training programme. I am not a great lover of dogsso I was decidedly nervous in attending a training session with visions of huge and vicious German Shepherds surrounding me! Would I really be safe, and could I possibly enjoy such a visit?
On a freezing cold morning in mid-January,just before dawn, I arrived at the local Police HQ along with my husband,David, to meet the Inspector in charge of the Dog Section. He drove us into the countryside to join some of his team and their hounds. These dogs were not Alsatians but a much sleeker and smaller breed now being brought into Police service – Belgian Malinois. Even I felt these were most attractive dogs and full of character. After a briefing about the training regime, we deployed to a hillside of fields and shallow drains where the exercise was “tracking”. One Officer walked a complicated route across the fields and dropped a mobile phone by a ditch. A colleague with “Kodi” on a leash and having sniffed some clothing, then, nose to the ground, followed the trail and located the phone. You could not fail to be impressed. We were told a scent trail goes cold after a few hours and less in urban areas. The other dogs were put through similar paces whilst we steadily froze in the icy morning!
Later we moved to a forest setting for different instruction. In a large clearing with some cabins we witnessed exercises by the dogs of locating, intimidating but not attacking, an individual in dense woodland, to bring an Officer to the spot. Then, perhaps the highlight, seeing the dogs immobilise a would-be felon when, unleashed,they launchedthemselves at the unfortunate suspect’s arm. The Officer being attacked wore a heavy coat with a protective sleeve. I politely demurred when offered to don the coat to experience this myself after I witnessed how the dog’s momentum flung even a hefty Officer rapidly around in a circle. It was impressive.
After more hours of this exacting work with several dogs David and I eventually dragged ourselves away. I had rarely been so cold, but the warmth and friendliness of the team was infectious. I am full of admiration for their work and was inspired by the dogs and their patient, dedicated handlers. Surprisingly they take the dogs back to their homes at night, where they act almost as “domestic” pets!
Some weeks later I was invited back to Police HQ to present certificates to “Kodi” and “Puck”, two of the dogs, but collected by their handlers, who had passed the course and would now be going to join in active police work.