I am often contacted by constituents regarding the policing of hunts. This is a contentious area, and to be fair, many feel the legislation causes as many issues as it solves.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, I have raised people’s concerns over illegal hunting to the attention of the Chief Constable to ensure that Dorset Police has suitable measures in place to respond to incidents.
The Force’s Wildlife Lead Officer has met all masters of hunts for the last three years, both before the season starts and during the season to set expectations regarding behaviour and lawful activity. These meetings allow Dorset Police to highlight concerns and agree actions. This has recently included the introductions of full risk assessments by hunts to promote safety and reduce the risk of illegal activity taking place.
Dorset Police has carried out a review of its response to hunting and the policy remains that all hunts will not be routinely policed. Dorset Police has introduced training for all call takers, which took place over a 5-month period and was completed in November 2015. All call takers now have a greater understanding of wildlife crime legislation including the Hunting Act 2004, which ensures an appropriate response when complaints involving hunting are made.
When calls are received which involve allegations of illegal hunting or associated activity, the call is assessed and graded accordingly. A police unit will be tasked according to the information received and the grade of the call.
All of Dorset Police’s Wildlife Crime officers have received enhanced training, which continues this month with a three-day training package, including the Hunting Act 2004.
I have ensured the Force have two new rural buggies, capable of being used for rural policing, including hunts. I also predict an increasing use of drones in rural policing including aerial monitoring of both sides of the hunting and badger debates.
I recognise the emotive issues that hunting brings on both sides.
However, I am not responsible for operational policing, the Chief Constable is.
My personal views are largely irrelevant; I have to remain totally impartial.
Equally, so does Dorset Police, dealing with each allegation according to its merits and evidential value. When Dorset Police receives allegations of possible breaches under the Act, it will seek supporting evidence and, importantly, seek early case guidance from the dedicated wildlife lead within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Any evidence captured by the police, or made available by third parties, will be examined by trained police officers and shared with the CPS to ensure that evidence based decisions can be made for each individual case.
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