Exclusive: Sussex PCC Katy Bourne to propose new pet theft recording methods after groundbreaking survey
Sussex's Police and Crime Commissioner has urged dog walkers to 'not be fearful to go out' with their pet.
A survey carried out by police leaders, including Sussex PCC Katy Bourne, has revealed more than three-quarters of dog owners have become more wary of walking their dogs during the day for fear of theft.
Of the 124,729 people asked, 97 per cent felt dog theft is a serious problem.
Speaking to this newspaper, Mrs Bourne said she was 'really very grateful' to the 'phenomenal' number of people who responded to the survey, adding that the results have been 'extraordinary'.
"It's the largest survey that the association of PCCs has ever run," Mrs Bourne said .
"It was far in excess of any responses we expected so it just shows the strength of feeling people have on this topic is very palpable."
The majority of people who responded to the survey (79 per cent) said they were fearful of taking their dog for a walk in the daylight, which surprised the Sussex PCC.
"I expected that to be strong at night-time in the dark but in the daylight?" she asked.
"Of course it is [a concern].
"The public perception on fear has really increased, especially since lockdown. There's a lot that the police need to be doing.
"If they are communicating with the public, they need to give them confidence that they are going to respond effectively to this crime and take it seriously.
"The police can also educate the public to give them safety messages around how to keep their pet safe and what to do to protect it. They can also encourage the public to report it."
Addressing those who are fearful to take their dog for a walk, Mrs Bourne added: "Don't be fearful to go out. There are a lot of precautions you can take.
"Keep your dog on a short lead. Don't let it out of your sight. If it does, make sure it is trained to come back when you call it. Be aware of the environment that you're in.
"Just sensible things you can do to protect your pet. I don't want people to be frightened to go out and walk their dog because actually the whole point of having a dog is to give you that companionship and pleasure. Pets cheer us all up. More than ever, we need them."
Mrs Bourne said there is a 'clear message' that the police 'need to communicate much better with the public on this issue'.
She said: "That's one of the criticisms that I hear quite a bit that forces don't take it seriously enough, as 28 per cent said the force response was poor and 48 per cent said they didn't even know.
"That in itself is an issue around public confidence. They have to have confidence that their police force is going to take it seriously and respond accordingly.
"A lot of the public don't think their local police force is effective and I think Sussex has been just as much to blame in the past.
"Police have to balance things on the risk of threat and harm. By not taking this crime seriously, the impact on the victim is really significant.
"People are telling me their dog is not just a piece of property. It's actually a member of the family, an extension of the family.
"We want more consistency in the way these crimes are recorded."
Mrs Bourne said the results of the survey have given a 'real evidence base' to 'challenge my local force'.
The PCC was due to be meeting with the Home Office today (March 17) to discuss alternative methods for policing teams to crack down on pet theft.
"It's for me to represent this to the highest level of the government," she said. "The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have both said they want to look at this.
"The theft of a pet is recorded as property, so it's really hard for police forces to interrogate their systems and pull out how many different types of crime involve the theft of a pet.
"Since the beginning of the year, Sussex Police now put a flag on their system. If a dog is involved in a particular robbery of theft, they will flag it. It's not ideal but is better than what we've currently got. At least it allows some form of identification but it still relies on a police officer ticking a box.
"I am going to ask the Home Office if we can have an additional classification around dog theft. I don't know if that's possible but it seems that it can't be impossible.
"Other colleagues are suggesting we go further by having a pet register, like passports. If you want to move an animal around, you have to have documentation.
"These are some of the conversations I'll be having with the Home Office."
Mrs Bourne said the introduction of a rural crime team in Sussex has been 'really welcomed' in a county, which is 'classified as 62 per cent rural'.
She continued: "We've now got 18 officers in the team across Sussex.
"It's the biggest rural crime team in the South East. That's all they do. Dog theft, heritage crime, wildlife crime.
"People and more vulnerable in these areas because they are isolated.
"It's quite an eye-opener to see how many local businesses are in our rural areas. They're all susceptible."