POLICE horses help raise levels of trust with the public and lead to greater engagement with uniformed officers, according to research.
A report into the effectiveness of mounted police, the first of its kind, shows units on horseback appear not just more visible to the public than officers on foot, but more approachable too.
Researchers from University of Oxford, who carried out the study with think-tank Rand Europe, said the number of mounted units across the UK had fallen from 17 to 12, some in response to government cuts. The report, commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), highlighted a study of mounted patrols in Gloucester and south London. The results suggested they had six times as many interactions with the public as officers on foot.
Co-author Ben Bradford, from the University of Oxford’s Centre for Criminology, said: “Early results reveal a measurable value and impact of mounted police in neighbourhood settings.
People who have recently seen mounted patrols tend to have higher levels of trust and confidence in police.”
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The report stated the 12 mounted police units in the UK, including one for all of Scotland, have 271 officers, 103 staff and 247 horses, which represents a cut of nearly a quarter of national mounted capacity since the beginning of 2012.
It also highlighted mounted police had a “unique capacity” at policing disorder, football crowds and public events, such as Glastonbury Festival.
Researchers also estimated keeping mounted units cost between £15,500 and £22,000 a year more than employing a regular officer.
Gloucestershire Deputy Chief Constable Rod Hansen, Acpo’s lead for mounted policing, said: “It does not feel right to lose such a historic and versatile capability due to short-term financial challenges without fully understanding how sadly it would be missed.
“That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t more cost effective ways of delivering mounted policing, and this academic research will help sign post those alternatives.”
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “The deployment of police horses has a positive effect on public reassurance and helps keep people safe. In the first year of Police Scotland the mounted branch undertook 268 deployments, attended 162 football matches, 31 public gatherings and 13 public order events right across Scotland.
“As well as their specialist role with crowd management and public order, mounted branch officers carry out all the functions of a police officer and are expected to tackle driver behaviour as well as antisocial behaviour. This was reflected in the statistical returns which included 2,481 searches (of which 513 or 21 per cent were positive). Such patrols are intelligence-led and are focused on local issues as directed by local police commanders.”
He added: “The Police Scotland ethos is to ensure equity of access to resources for all parts of Scotland from specialist services. The mounted branch deployments have been very well received by both the public and police who prior to the inception of Police Scotland did not have access to these specialised units.”
Police horses normally retire between the ages of 18 and 20.
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