A plan to establish a £200,000 mounted unit in Wrexham has been approved after the North Wales police authority voted to sign the lease for the stables on 29 June.

The move comes three months after Essex police reinstated a mounted unit following an eight-year absence (news, 5 April).

North Wales police chief superintendent Phil Thomson said the new unit, which he estimated would be in operation in about seven months, would help foster positive relations with the public.

“Horses are six times more visible than police on the beat,” he explained. “There is a view that a mounted unit is just a public order football match tool but this is also about community policing. Horses are popular with the public.”

Chief superintendent Thomson said he had conducted an “experiment” in Wrexham that demonstrated “horses break down barriers”. He positioned two standing officers in a certain spot for two hours and then replaced them with two mounted officers for the same length of time.

“Two members of the public approached the standing officers; the mounted officers were mobbed,” he said.

Isle of Anglesey county councillor Eifion Jones was one of seven police authority members to vote against the proposal (nine voted in favour).

Explaining why, he said: “I’m not opposed to this plan in principle but it is a question of priorities and timing — it’s not in tune with public opinion. People want their local bobby back.”

A police authority spokesman admitted there were misgivings among some members, but said that overall they “were persuaded by the chief constable’s case in relation to the additional public reassurance police horses can bring”.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said horses are a “significant part” of modern day policing.

“They are able to assist local units with high-visibility policing, where other options would involve greater cost implications,” he said, adding that the number of mounted units was “remaining steady”.

Of the 43 police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 16 have mounted units.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (19 July, ’07)