North Yorkshire Police, Cleveland Police and Durham Constabulary are to merge their police dog sections to create a single integrated service from summer 2016.
The move, says the force, will increase police coverage in rural areas, reduce overall costs by more than £3m over the next five years, and enable a substantial 24-hour dog unit to be to retained across the three forces.
Police dogs carry out a wide range of duties to support police operations, including tracking people, chasing down criminals, finding explosives, cash, weapons or drugs, “passive” drug identification, keeping public order and supporting firearms officers. Many of these tasks require highly specialised training, which means that, at the moment, each force only has a limited number of police dogs with these skills.
Cleveland Police and Durham Constabulary embarked on a shared dog unit earlier this year. Police dogs and their handlers from the three forces will all be trained in the same way and will adopt the same tactical approaches. This will give each force access to more police dogs per shift, as well as greater access to specialist police dogs to cover particular types of operations.
In North Yorkshire, dogs live with their handlers in different locations across the whole county. To support them better, operational bases will be set up in East Coast/Ryedale, Harrogate, York Fulford Road and Northallerton/Thirsk.
In addition, the county will have improved access to specialist dogs, including passive drugs dogs, which are typically used in town and city centres to identify people carrying drugs. At present, North Yorkshire Police buys in this service from a private company.
Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, said: “Police dogs and their handlers provide a really valuable service, but it is expensive and we need to save money. This plan is a good one for North Yorkshire – it will save us £172,000 a year, and at the same time it will increase the number of dogs available to our county.”