Police Dogs

Superintendent Tom Roberts.

Superintendent Tom Roberts.

1933: Denis Turner: After the use of bloodhounds in the First World War dogs were not used in Surrey until 1933 when the head of CID Superintendent Tom Roberts, persuaded the chief constable to allow PC Potter who was stationed at Ash and kept Bloodhounds which he trained as a hobby, to use them for Police work.

The Bloodhounds worked with PC Potter for five years not just within the Surrey Constabulary area, but also occasionally to assist Hampshire and Buckinghamshire. They proved quite successful, particularly in finding clues at the scenes of crimes including missing persons and retrieving discarded stolen property. It is right to expand upon the important role that Tom Roberts played in the development of the Surrey Constabulary Dog Section.

Tom Roberts was a forward looking officer and one of the areas he thought deserved closer examination was the use of dogs for the police service. From very early on in his career he had been keen to investigate this and, luckily, his deputy supported him. Detective Inspector Boshier shared his interest but they knew little about dogs.

Amongst the incidents PC Potter and his Bloodhounds had been used was when an elderly couple went missing from a coach party. They had wandered off unnoticed and the driver had gone some distance before realising they were not aboard. He immediately returned but could find no trace and it was getting dark. PC Potter's dogs were put to work and in the falling light they were eventually found with one trapped in boggy ground. There is no doubt that had it not been for the dog there was a strong possibility that the incident would have ended tragically.

Tom Roberts' research led him to believe that it was important to have realistic expectations of a dog's ability and also to ensure that the animal had the desired traits for police work. This included a good scenting and tracking ability as well as the possession of courage. His open-mindedness came to the fore when he attended an incident, not in Surrey but in West Sussex.

It was early in his career and he had just been promoted to Detective Sergeant. He watched as a Bloodhound from West Sussex Police searched for a track without any visible signs of success. Although others thought the dog had failed he followed as the dog and handler went along a track that led to a railway line.

As he went he noticed a heel print of the type that was in common use at the time. There had been a number of shop breaks on the borders of West Sussex and Surrey and when Tom Roberts returned to the police station he checked and found twenty or so break-ins had occurred. On closer examination he realised that all were within a short distance of a railway line in isolated village areas.

He suggested that a watch be kept in likely areas and on shops not yet attacked. Police officers were posted on strategic points along the railway line and on the very first night the thief was apprehended. As it happened the alert was given by one of PC Potter's untrained dogs. Tom Roberts gives the credit to the dog whose direction gave him the idea for his line of enquiry.

However, he knew that it was unrealistic to think that every time a dog was tasked it would get a result but it was imperative to have an open mind and learn what a dog could offer in terms of crime detection. As a result, his early pioneering work from 1933 to 1938 convinced him that they would prove their worth in serious crime especially after another incident when the body of a woman, who had missing for thirty hours, was found by the hounds after a previous extensive search had been conducted.

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