England

Police dog numbers cut in merger across three counties

Police dog units in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire are to be merged to create one joint service to save £1.1m per year.

The joint unit would be responsible for public order, tracking and searches for suspects and missing people.

Dogs for drug searches and other specialist operations would be provided by a private contractor.

Neal Alston from Hertfordshire Police Federation said the 44 handlers would be cut to 24 and 74 dogs reduced to 24.

He also warned that by the time a dog got to an incident, "the villain may have fled or the missing person not found".

It is planned to base the dog handling service at the former RAF base at Alconbury in Cambridgeshire.

Mr Alston said: "It is the numbers were are most concerned about.

"If the dogs have to travel from Wisbech to Watford on an emergency call the trail would have gone cold.

"Armed police units also use dogs to go into a dangerous situation first and if they don't have them it will put officers' lives at risk," said Mr Alston.

Agreement still sought

Bedfordshire Police Authority approved the merger on 13 July.

Hertfordshire Police Authority will discuss the issue at its meeting on 20 July.

Cambridgeshire Police Authority is to delegate the matter to its chief executive before final agreements are discussed at the next authority meeting in September.

A spokeswoman for Bedfordshire Police Authority said: "Until all three police authorities have met to consider the business case for the future provision of police dog services in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, no changes will be made.

"If agreed, the business plan will be implemented in close consultation with force dog handlers, for whom the welfare of their dogs will always be of paramount importance.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further until all the authorities' views are known."

In April, the three forces merged their forensic, armed response and major crime units to save £2m a year.

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