APPREHENDING CRIMINALS is all part of a day's work for police dogs. However, now the latest technology means they can capture suspects on film too.
Police forces are equipping their firearms dogs with miniature television cameras with transmitters fitted to their heads or harnesses.
It means that the animals can search buildings and transmit images from the lightweight video camera to their handler's monitor.
Northumbria police has four specially trained firearms dogs, all German shepherds, which can carry out advanced searches and pinpoint hidden gunmen. The ‘Fido camera’ system has infrared lights, which means that pictures can be provided in darkness.
Images are seen on a receiver unit carried by the dog handler, who can watch the progress of the dogs searching for armed suspects. The dogs are controlled through hand gestures or, if they are out of sight, through voice alone.
They are trained to leave a mobile telephone in a basket at the front door of a building that is under siege so officers can negotiate with a suspect. They are also trained to carry out advanced searches without being distracted.
The camera can help the Crown Prosecution Service to convict gunmen by providing recorded evidence that can be used in court.
Pc Jim Soutar, who is responsible for Northumbria's firearms dogs, said: "We're looking for dogs with above-average drive who can operate under stressful conditions.
"The dogs work alongside firearms officers searching for armed suspects and the control of the dogs must be way above what we normally seek. They must have the skills of an excellent general-purpose dog as well as an excellent firearms dog."
The Mighty Quin – the Trailblazer
However, the use of video cameras on police dogs is not as new as it may seem, although undoubtedly advances in technology mean that the cameras used are more sophisticated and lighter nowadays.
It was, in fact, ten years ago that a Belgian Shepherd Dog Malinois, Sabrefield Quire Master, a.k.a. ‘Quin’ was employed by the Ministry of Defence in such a role – and was equipped with a lightweight video camera for his duties.
UK breeder Liz Richardson of Sabrefield Malinois bred Quin. As a 7-week-old puppy, he was picked by Serge Vitoron, a Frenchman, who bought him to train for ring sport, his early training was very impressive. M Vitoron also took him to a few of the UK’s Malinois Club Ch. shows where he won a number of well-considered awards.
At 2 years of age, Quin came back to stay with Liz Richardson, when M Vitoran was posted home to France, unable due to his job to take his beloved dog with him. After using Quin at stud for a few months, Mrs Richardson heard that Sergeant Murray Simmonds of the MOD was looking for a dog to replace his old GSD, for work in the MOD defence dog team and she persuaded him to try Quin.
Liz Richardson, writing in Malinois Breed Notes last year says: "At the age of nearly 3, to say Quin took to it like a duck to water would be right but even more so, everything he was asked to do he did; tracking across fields through buildings and out the other side to ‘get his man’.
He went on to pass all the Fire and search tests at South Wales police training section, combing buildings for substances and firearms. Thus he became the very 1st MOD dog to be licensed as a Tactical Firearms Support dog. He also became a guinea pig for a trial using an infrared camera strapped to his head. This enabled him to search in the dark and find hidden firearms and criminals purely by smell, though he could be monitored outside by a back-up team with a screen."
Liz continues: "In his later years Quin became a trainer dog as Murray took on a trainer's position in the Army, teaching new dog-handlers to work their dogs correctly. All through his working life the MOD watched this small but highly efficient dog work with speed and accuracy, so much so that they became besotted with the idea that Malinois were definitely ‘the way to go’, they had a few obvious mishaps due to buying-in from the continent, some dogs not really up to standard for the job, but now seem to be getting to grips with the Malinois concept of work."
Quin was also the father of the UK’s first police dog Malinois. He was officially retired from Service at the grand age of 10 and half years – far beyond the usual retirement age for police dogs. Quin passed away peacefully in September 2005, aged 12 and a half.
Lightweight video cameras have also been used previously on some specially trained Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs.
With thanks to Malinois Breed Notes writer Marianne Brett, and Liz Richardson