Police Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez says that dog theft in Devon and Cornwall is the worst in the entire country.
Some police officers have taken to social media in recent weeks to rubbish rumours of a spike in dog thefts around Devon.
But on a live Q&A session on Facebook, Ms Hernandez said the picture in the South West is not a pretty one.
She stated that out of the 256 dog theft reports in the past three years, there had only been two that were charged.
Annually, it equated to about 80 thefts of dogs per year.
Ms Hernandez said: “We don’t think police take dog theft seriously enough, so we are trying to establish the scale of concern around this particular area because the data in policing is not at its best.
“The way it’s logged is not great. If you are going to report a dog theft, it will go down as theft of property, and it’s not an offence in its own right. Unless it is flagged or labelled well, I’m afraid it’s not easy to find the data.
“We have some issues, and this is why maybe there are some problems in understanding how serious the problem is and how bad it may be.”
Ms Hernandez stated that sadly, only around one in five pets get reunited with their owners if they are stolen or lost, and one per cent of thefts lead to charges.
She continued: “There’s an issue in collecting the data and an issue in catching the offenders,” she explained. There are also issues with punishing those offenders that they do catch.
“The penalty for pet theft is a maximum of up to seven years in prison, which never happens,” she added.
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“I don’t think there has been one case where that has happened. The one per cent leading to charges will get less than six months, and it would be highly likely it would be a suspended sentence, so not even an imprisonable offence straight away.
“We all believe our pets are part of our family, and we all believe the level of harm to us of this happening to us is high. It’s like the removal of a family member, and we don’t think the sentencing guidelines are helping the courts to deliver a stronger sentence.”
The police and crime commissioner then went on to say that both Devon and Cornwall are the two of the most prevalent areas for dog theft in the country.
She said that around 25 per cent of dog thefts were linked to serious and organised crime..
She continued: “We’re definitely not having a great time of this,” she said. “We want to make sure our communities are protected, and that policing is doing the right thing to help.
“One of the other things I’m worried about are women who walk their dogs in the evening, who may be frightened of going out and somebody following you around in a van, which I have had many reports of.
“Even if dogs are on leads, we’ve had reports where people are attacking individuals to steal the dogs. It’s the farm dogs too, which may not be on a lead, being stolen in our rural areas.
“The two types of dogs we think people are particularly interested in are the toy dogs and gun dogs. These seem to have the highest value.
“What we realised with Covid is that everybody wanted to buy a dog, as they were all going to be at home. The price of dogs went through the roof, and that’s why we believe organised crime is using this to make easy money.
“Organised criminals who might do the high-end crime, also like easy money, and they do that as part of their way to make some, and get involve in all sorts of things.”
Ms Hernandez stated that they had plans to try and ensure that the regional organised crime unit was resourced and tasked to look at the serious issue.
She added: “I’m keen to see a resource put into that if they can identify that there is organised crime officially linked within it.
“We need everyone to report any concerns about their safety in our community while out walking their dog if they believe there is somebody who is either following them because they are a vulnerable person out on the street or because they think they’re going to steal your dog.
“You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you’re frightened and believe an offender is in the immediate vicinity, you can call 999.
“We need to ensure every report of concern goes to the police so they have the intelligence.
“There is nothing you can do other than walk your dog as you would normally, keep your eyes out, and report anything suspicious. That’s the best way to deal with it in the first instance.”