This past June, the Cheshire and North Wales Police Force welcomed “Koda” into their fold. The Belgian Malinois youngster became a hit on social media, and her “pupdates” (hashtags #PoliceDogInTraining #LandSharkInTraining #PoliceDog) on Twitter have been fun to see.
No word, however, on whether Koda will follow a training protocol pioneered in 2006 by North Wales police headed at the time by controversial chief, Richard Brunstrom: Rather than biting suspects, Belgian Malinois K9s were trained to disable their targets by leaping at them and delivering a flying “head-butt” at their midriff. Under the scheme, the dogs were muzzled to prevent them from biting, and to protect the dog, a metal rod was placed across the front of the muzzles to absorb the impact of the strike.
North Wales Police Dog Section Manager, Sergeant Gareth Crow, who pioneered the technique, said at the time that the flying Malinois head-charge was the equivalent of a baton blow if the dog has a full run-up. The technique was considered so successful that muzzled dogs were used for crowd control at football games. Sgt Crowe added, “People may think a muzzled dog can’t do anything but they are caught out by the power and speed of the tactic.”
Of a different opinion was retired dog handler, John Barrett, who served for 18 years with the Metropolitan Police: ‘This sounds like political correctness. It is very strange – I think the public would laugh at you with a muzzled dog, and it could be counterproductive if people think the dog has to be muzzled because it is dangerous.”
The tactic was debated in the press, and many comments sounded like this one: “You really couldn’t make it up… a Welsh police force is training its dogs to headbutt criminals rather than bite them, because politically correct – ‘PC’ – bosses are afraid that allowing the dogs to bite criminals will infringe their human rights!” Others regarded it as a logical response to increased compensation claims from citizens who claimed to have been bitten by police dogs. That said, someone on social media pointed out that if a suspect was running away from a K9, they would have their backs to the dog, and a headbutt to the lumbar region would surely cause greater injury and lead to further compensation claims.
It the tactic still being used? We honestly don’t know. Beyond 2010, we couldn’t find one mention of “police dog head butts” except in articles that referred back to 2006 when it first made the news.
Image of Koda provided by Cheshire and North Wales Police