New police pup for Bay

Constable James Fitzgerald with new recruit Floki. Photo: Ryan Wood.

Little Floki might only be three months old, but he’s already preparing for a career in the New Zealand Police.

That’s because he’s one of the new police dogs being trained by the Coastal Bay of Plenty Dog Section. It’s hoped he will be up to the task, and join handler Constable James Fitzgerald on the beat, replacing James’ former dog, Asta.

Police dogs retire at seven years of age, so there’s a much higher turnover than regular police officers. All the dogs are German Shepherds, and are bred down in Trentham. One hundred puppies were born last year, and there are currently around 120 dogs working with the police.

As it turns out, training them isn’t all that different from training a regular dog.

“We use food to reward the behaviours we want to see in the dog,” says James. “But the biggest part is forming the bond.”

Sometimes a dog might not have the right personality to be in the police, either. For example, while an overly-friendly dog makes a nice pet, they’re not the best when it comes to chasing down dangerous criminals.

However, those who do make the cut form such close relationships with their handlers, that upon retiring they spend the rest of their days at their former partner’s home, sitting on the porch.

“You spend your whole working life together. You go through a lot, and you come to rely on each other.”

Sergeant Logan Marsh has been in charge of the section for three years. In his time as a handler he’s had four dogs, with the latest trainee being 18-month-old Ginge.

He says the dogs, fitted with their own stab-proof vests, go to all jobs, including searching for decamped burglars, facing down armed offenders and assisting with search and rescue.

“We’re catching offenders every week,” he says. “Just recently one of the teams were searching for a man who had a firearm, and we would never have found him if it wasn’t for the dog team.”

Police dogs respond to more than 30,000 incidents each year around the country. The first police dog puppies were brought to New Zealand from England in 1956, after New Zealand Prime Minister Sidney Holland was impressed with the Surrey Constabulary police dog school during a visit.