Like so many innovations, the first use of dogs to assist the Police in Britain came about by two unconnected elements coming together at the right time. Crimes in some areas of Glasgow getting out of hand and the arrival of a letter on the Chief Constable’s desk.
During the winter of 1908, the number of serious housebreakings in the more affluent areas of Glasgow was increasing and, due to the large gardens of the houses in Pollokshields and Kelvinside, catching the housebreakers was difficult for the Glasgow Police. Pressure was also being brought to bear on the Chief Constable to solve the problem by the ‘people of influence’ who lived in these areas.
The situation came to a head in the early hours of Tuesday 17 March 1908 when a the son of a wealthy Glasgow family, James Fleming, was studying for his law examinations in an upper floor bedroom of Kelvinside House, Kelvinside, Glasgow. He heard a noise from outside an adjoining room and on investigating, saw a man trying to enter the window. He quickly telephoned Maryhill Police who sent two police officers, Inspector Cowan and Sergeant Godfrey. Arming himself with the family revolver (not uncommon in those pre. Firearms Act days) Mr. Fleming went into the room, switched on the light and confronted the housebreaker who had already broken in. The housebreaker produced a pistol and shot at Mr. Fleming, one of the bullets grazing his head. He returned fire and one of his shots went through the housebreaker’s heart, killing him instantly.
When the officers of Glasgow’s Criminal Department arrived, Detective Officer John Trench identified the deceased as a well-known, violent criminal called John McLeod. McLeod was found in possession of a ‘complete burglar’s outfit’ including a mask and a ten-inch sheath knife. At the subsequent Fatal Accident Inquiry, the Sheriff declared that it Mr. Fleming had acted in self-defence and complimented the young man on his marksmanship!
This incident was unprecedented in the annals of Glasgow Police, and the concerns of both the public and the police were at a high level throughout the period 1908-9. Instances of armed crime in Glasgow were on the increase and housebreakings were continuing at an alarming rate. Lone police officers working the beats in affluent areas were fearful that the gangs who preyed on the large houses would attack them, should they discover them during their patrols. Something had to be done.
At the beginning of February 1910, when Chief Constable James Verdier Stevenson was still receiving complaints about violent housebreakings and other serious crimes; a letter arrived at Police Headquarters in St. Andrew’s Square from a Major E. H. Richardson of Harrow in Middlesex. Major Richardson, who had bred dogs for the Army over many years, had cross-bred a dog, which he called ‘The Executive’ for use by the Police, and had written to all Chief Constables in Britain suggesting it as an aid to the Police. The letter, which also appeared in the Glasgow Herald, was brought to the attention of The Glasgow Corporation Watching and Lighting Committee.
The Executive breed described by Major Richardson was mainly Airedale with Collie (for brains) and Retriever (for it’s sense of smell) as part of the breeding. They were trained to assist the police on the night shift and with their superior senses locate housebreakers lying in wait in the large gardens and parks.
The Watching and Lighting Committee discussed the matter at length and examples of the use of police dogs on Continental Europe were cited. This prompted mixed feelings during the discussions concerning the scheme. Councillor Roderick Scott in moving disapproval of the recommendation said, “Why should they (the Police) have dogs, as if they were living in Borneo or some of these savage countries”. Another, on hearing that the Paris Police used dogs stated that they were fortunate that there were ‘no hooligans of the Parisian type’ in Glasgow. In the end the Committee sensibly voted that as an experiment, four dogs should be purchased from Major Richardson at a total cost of £21.
On 28 June 1910, the first two dogs arrived in Glasgow from Harrow and were temporarily kennelled at the Central Police Office, Turnbull Street, Glasgow, to await their posting to ‘F’ or Maryhill Division (for Kelvinside).
We are fortunate that a camera was on hand at the time as one of the dogs was photographed being held by Sergeant Robert Glen, Bar Officer, at the Central Police Office. Admittedly, the dog does not appear to have the ‘presence’ of the German Shepherd dogs we know today. However, appearances can be deceptive and the Airedales were fiercely brave, loyal and protective of their handlers. They were also very strong in their build and “indifferent to cold and exposure”, yet good tempered and obedient.
The second pair of dogs arrived in Glasgow on 29 June, which were for use in the Pollokshields area of ‘G’ or Queens Park Division. All four dogs and their appointed handlers then undertook a short training course before going to the areas concerned. We only know that one of the dogs used in Pollokshields was called ‘Bob’, but the names of the other dogs and their handlers were not recorded.
Surprisingly, the introduction of the police dogs was not mentioned in the Chief Constable’s Annual Report for 1910. However, newspaper coverage in the Glasgow Herald at the time was quite extensive and when the dogs were delivered declared, “This is the first time that dogs have been utilised in Great Britain as an aid to the police, but their use abroad is not uncommon”.
We know that the experiment with the dogs was a success as a rather unfortunate article in the Glasgow Evening Times of 3 February 1913 confirms their use at that time. It recounts that in the early hours of that day, an unnamed constable opened a suburban police box, but did not see that one of the dogs had been left inside unmuzzeled. The dog bit the constable’s leg and, although not serious, the officer had to go off duty!
No record of the use of police dogs appears to have been kept and only in 1953 when details of the formation of the City of Glasgow Police Dog Branch was announced by Chief Constable Malcolm McCulloch, do they get a mention in the Annual Report of that year.
On this occasion, two constables, Jim Roache and Fred Boulton, were selected for a fourteen-week Metropolitan Police dog-training course. Two dogs were supplied to the officers called ‘Prince’ and ‘Shan’. The Metropolitan Police donated one dog and the Glasgow Police bought the other. The Dog Branch expanded over the years and formed the nucleus of the Strathclyde Police Dog Branch on the formation of the regional force in 1975.