Plans to slash the number of Cambridgeshire police dogs and privatise the unit will “strip the service to the bone”, according to rank-and-file officers.
Dogs which tackle criminals and sniff out bombs and drugs face becoming pets because of a swingeing reduction in their number in a bid to save cash.
Officers fear the loss of specialist sniffer and general protection dogs will put officers and the public at risk with private handlers not having the experience of police officers. They claim cutting the number of hounds at the unit, based at Alconbury, will also hamper officers’ ability to catch criminals.
The feared cuts come as part of a series of mergers of services as Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces expand their collaboration.
The Scientific Services Unit, Armed Policing Unit and Major Crime Unit have merged to save the three forces £3 million a year while the road policing unit, the dog unit and the firearms licensing department are among those earmarked for mergers.
And the Cambridgeshire force is expected to lose its force helicopter this year in an attempt to cut £500,000 from its budget.
Shaun Ryan, chairman of Cambridgeshire Police Federation, which represents front-line officers, said: “It looks like the three forces are considering cutting the number of police dogs we have from 74 to 24 and put the service out to privatisation.
“This is massive and looks like they are stripping the service to the bone.
“We are deeply concerned this substantial reduction will massively impact on our ability to protect the public, catch criminals and to police disturbances.
“Dogs are a great tool during riots or major disturbances. We are already losing our helicopter – now they are cutting other essential services.
“I know cash is short but we have big concerns. They seem to want non-officers to manage the dogs instead of warranted officers with years of experience and training which is worrying.”
Those at risk include hero Belgian Shepherd dog, Razor, praised for tackling a drunken burglar caught raiding a house in St Barnabas Road, Cambridge, while the owner slept.
The dog dragged the raider to the ground and held him until he stopped thrashing.
A police spokeswoman said the cuts may have to be made to help deal with a 20 per cent reduction each force faces in Government grant funding.
She added: “Proposals have been developed as to how a collaborated dog unit function could be provided.
“These proposals, that are being considered, are ones that are value for money to the public and enable the three forces to deliver the core functions and essential roles that dog handlers perform.
“They propose a reduced police dog capacity based on the core, essential roles that the handlers and their dogs perform – such as support at incidents of public order and helping to track and search for a suspect or missing people.
“The proposals also recommend the outsourcing of our specialist dog capacity to an accredited commercial provider, similar to the way other forces across the country provide dog capability. This has enabled us to reduce the resources we put into this area.”
The Cambridgeshire force has a team of dog handlers and 23 dogs.