How could mounted police look in future

This article appears in the April 2014 edition of the College newsletter.

​A study on mounted police, to be published later this year, will reveal the impact  using horses have on dealing with incidents from public disorder to neighbourhood policing.

The evidence base is being gathered by researchers from Oxford University, RAND Europe and the College of Policing to allow chief constables and police and crime commissioners to make informed strategic decisions about how to best use mounted police at a tactical and economical level.

There are currently 12 mounted police units across England, Wales and Scotland - down from 17 in January 2012. The National lead for mounted policing, Deputy Chief Constable Rod Hansen, said the research provides a unique opportunity to gain an evidence-based understanding of the value of mounted policing in the UK.

Horses are used by police in a number of ways including crowd control, patrolling communities to reduce crime or give reassurance, searching for missing people in open areas, counter terrorism and ceremonial duties.  Mounted patrols have most recently been used to prevent crime and reassure communities affected by flooding in Somerset, accessing areas that were impassable by foot or vehicle.

The 18-month study, called "Making and Breaking Barriers: Assessing the value of mounted police units in the UK", began in February 2013 and has already partly examined the impact they have on policing crowds at football matches.

These findings have shown that, while football fans were critical of football policing overall, they were "neutral" or "positive" when it came to a mounted police presence. Similarly, as reported in the Guardian in 2011, an incident at Wembley saw just six mounted officers holding back 35,000 fans from entering a Tube station which was at full capacity.

As part of the British model of policing by consent, it is important the public feel they can approach officers. A previous study observed two uniformed officers on static foot patrol in a busy shopping centre. Observers counted six interactions between them and the public over a two-hour period. When two mounted officers were deployed to the same location, the number of public interactions ran into the hundreds.

Observations will also be carried out at different kinds of public events, including demonstrations and more family-oriented events such as the Glastonbury Music Festival.

Evidence of mounted police in other parts of the world will be examined before a final report is produced and discussed at an international symposium at Oxford University in November.

Existing research in public order situations has shown that horses have a pacifying effect on crowds and officers can better monitor crowds from their vantage point. Horses have been shown to disperse crowds and reassure residents, and may bring a swifter end to public disorder.

DCC Hansen said: "It does not feel right to lose such a historic and useful capability without fully understanding how sadly it would be missed, and we must ensure that the police service does not inadvertently find itself without a capability it relies upon due to short-term financial limitations. That doesn't mean to say there aren't smarter or more cost-effective ways of delivering mounted policing, and our research will help sign post those viable alternatives.

"I feel fortunate that both Oxford University and RAND Europe have agreed to undertake the research, and am very grateful to the College of Policing for bringing their expertise to bear."

The work is being funded by the Economic Social Research Council (ESRC).

The first mounted policing unit was set up by a magistrate in 1760 with a single task of "tackling the plague of highwaymen infesting the metropolitan area's turnpikes".

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