How many pet microchip scanners do the UK Police own?

With almost ten million dogs in the UK required to have microchips – and the possibility of compulsory cat microchipping – we contacted all the UK constabularies to see if they have enough scanners to deal with the current laws that go with dog and horse compulsory microchipping?

Before we get into the figures let’s talk briefly about microchips and scanners and databases:

All pets and animals (except insects of course) can have a chip inserted. Dogs and cats will have them implanted above their shoulders below their neck. Reptiles have their chip in their rear left leg. Valuable carp fish are microchipped and so are parrots. Dogs must legally be chipped with correct ownership details.  The equine microchip number is in each horse’s passport which includes veterinary entries of drugs used.
The UK government is consulting whether or not to introduce compulsory microchipping for cats. If this becomes law an estimated 10.9 million pet cats (source: PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2019) will join the 9.9 million dogs already covered by legislation. Since April 6th 2016 all dogs in the UK (over eight weeks old) have been required to have microchips and correct owner details. A vet can exempt a dog’s microchip on health grounds.

Horses: From October 2020 it will be mandatory for all owners to microchip their horses, ponies, and donkeys. There is a DEFRA Central Equine Database

A decent scanner costs less than £50. For less than £15 you can purchase one that connects straight to your phone via its USB port. Many agree that the HALO is the best scanner because it has its own battery which charges via a USB cable. The HALO also sends the data to a database which alerts the scanner if a chip has been registered missing/stolen.

Each microchip is the size of a grain of rice.
The microchip (RFID = Radio Frequency Identification) emits radio waves picked up by the ‘reader’ known as the scanner.  A database could hold any information as it is only a pairing to a set of numbers and letters.There is no central database for pet microchips, only for horses and this is because horses can enter the food chain and the medication they might have taken such as commonly used ‘bute’ (phenylbutazoneis a risk to humans.

So with a brief description of the main three parts of the system (microchips, scanners, databases), we tnught that it would be a useful resource to find out if our police are equipped to deal with stolen pets and the legislation requirements for dogs and horses.
We sent a foi – freedom of information request to all the uk constabularies. As expected the response was hit-and-miss and proving that the police are ill equipped and under resourced when it comes to scanning pets and implementing the laws where a pet needs to be scanned.

Who has scanners and how many?

With pet theft on the increase and legislation requiring dogs to be chipped does this mean our forces are equipped to enforce the law? Like most things some forces are much better equipped than others, and some are not equipped at all!

A 2019 FOI freedom of information request  of microchip scanners owned by uk police forces

There are 161 known scanners for the 857 police stations.

Despite the introduction of microchipping laws many forces do not have the simple equipment and training needed.

Many of the scanners in the police possession were donated by organisations including the ‘Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance‘. That’s great, but the police should have the tools they need rather than rely on hand-outs in order to enforce the microchipping legislation.

Despite over a thousand dog thefts reported in 2019 there were only 5 recorded number of court proceedings related to microchips. There are just five recorded incidents where dogs’ microchips (or lack of chip with correct details) led to court proceedings.

The police and courts generally take a ‘softly-softly’ approach to dog owners failing to have their dogs microchipped with correct details. Offenders are often given a few weeks to chip their dogs and no further action is taken. Fines of £500 are only enforced if an owner subsequently fails to adhere to the law.

Dog theft has increased year on year as seen by Dr. Daniel Allen’s research and report.

Numbers of pet microchip scanners owned by uk police constabularies graph

What has caught our eye from the police FOI figures?

The number of constabularies unable to give us data because they just don’t know how many scanners they have!
Beds, Cambs, and Herts only having eight scanners between them.
The Port of Dover Police owning just ONE scanner.
Greater Manchester Police owning just 2 scanners between 39 stations.
Northumbria Police not even responding.

Who came out the best?

Metropolitan Police 22 scanners for 37 stations
Humberside Police 22 scanners for 38 stations.
Kent Police 15 scanners. They work alongside

So just how seriously do the police take pet theft? 

“The evidence suggests that police interest in pet theft is very much hit and miss and in many cases criminally lacking.

Clooney, my much loved and missed, male, microchipped seal point Siamese was stolen in June 2013; it has certainly been a fight to engage the police in his story and to achieve the vital Crime Reference Number. Frustratingly, even evidence that his chip was scanned and my details accessed twice in March 2018 has barely elevated his case, or prompted a commitment to robustly investigate. Each step of the way has required tenacious endeavour to prod, coerce and push the investigative process from the rear and to keep the case open. The process has been long, disheartening and very upsetting given the soaring hope that this discovery generated. 
We microchip our pets with the expectation that it will provide them with a passport home so how can I reconcile myself to the irrefutable proof that Clooney is out there, has been identified as missing by whoever looked up his details on our database records and yet the only people who can obtain the information – the police – are letting this happen without serious challenge? 
I feel like I’ve been robbed twice”.

Toni Clarke, owner of long-term stolen Siamese, Clooney

Toni & Clooney

So why isn’t it working?

It is no wonder that there are virtually no prosecutions regarding owners failing to register or keep records correct and up-to-date. The Police do not have anywhere near enough scanners. But there are many other failings within the whole system:

16 failings of pet microchip scanning

What can the government do?

How could policing be more effective?

1. Defra to create a central pet microchip database of databases.
2. Each police station have at least two scanners.
3. Police to be trained on how to use the scanner and correctly upload the data.
4. Police stations to have a designated officer responsible for all scanners and to ensure they are used correctly.
5. Police to be given training in recording the thefts of pets (especially regarding multiple pets stolen as individuals rather than one crime), and properly issuing crime numbers, and recording data.
6. Police to not ‘farm-out’ scanning duties to third parties such as vets, charities, or the council dog warden. It is an offence for dogs (and horses) to not have microchips with up-to-date details and the police should have the necessary tools at their disposal!

What can pet owners do?

1. Sign #FernsLaw petition because scanning legislation will help reunite stolen/missing all microchipped pets.
2. Write to MPs and tell them why pets matter. Explain to your MP that the police and courts need more powers to deal with stolen pets and that there are many failings that are preventing missing and stolen pets being reunited.
You can do this here:

Report researched and compiled by Richard Jordan and Toni Clarke.

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