IT MAY be the season of goodwill, but it is also the season of opportunist crime as criminal gangs look to take advantage of unsecured properties around Gloucester as families disappear off to see relatives this weekend.
Homeowners are advised to hide away their expensive iPads and other Christmas presents and not leave them in full view.
Gloucestershire Police launched Operation Switch when the clocks went back in October and said they have come down hard on burglars caught in the act, and will use all means at their disposal to ensure criminals are brought to justice.
Sergeant Jon Testar, who has led the city-wide operation, has hailed the use of police dogs in the apprehension of burglars who have been spotted at the scene.
He said: “When the dog handler turns up on a crime scene it is the verbal control that can help to control people. The dogs respond very well and are incredibly useful, particularly with tracking.
“We went to arrest somebody on December 10 and because of the dog, we could cover both sides of the building on the Stroud Road to track the man we were after.
“There were a number of exits available to the offender but because of the dog he had nowhere to go.
“If he had come out over the roof, it would have taken a considerable number of officers to cut off his exit routes. The offender would have realised that and we then found him hiding as he had nowhere to go. It gave us immediate control.
“The dogs are a ‘games up’ tool for police to use.
“There was an incident at the Pipe and Musket in Tuffley in January when four offenders escaped into a row of nearby bungalows.
“There were around 20 or 30 buildings. We put the dogs in from opposite ends and searched each garden systematically until we found all four of the offenders we were after.
“They were flushed out one by one and we made four arrests on suspicion of a pub burglary that day. There was no helicopter available that day, there was no other way.”
Police dog handler Shane Collins is one of 14 to operate around the county.
“When we get that call to go to an incident like a burglary where there has been an offender spotted at the scene, we need to get there quickly,” he said. “It is rare to have a burglar still in a house, but it does happen and the police dog is very effective then.
“If there is a burglary, to catch the person with a dog is a great boost for everyone and shows how valuable they are to the police.
“If a burglar discards a stolen item, that can be picked up too as it will retain the offender’s scent.
“The dogs can pick a tiny ammunition shell, around the size of a five pence piece, they are incredible animals.”
In Gloucester, since October 14, dwelling burglaries, including attempts, are down by around 35 per cent.
In Barton and Tredworth the results have been even more significant.
Since a focused door-to-door home security advice campaign last year, the number of incidents have fallen by around 40 per cent.