‘Now I can see the value of horses’: police force’s mounted unit saved

  • A police force’s mounted unit whose future was in doubt will remain in operation thanks to the value it brings – but concerns have been raised about the unit’s “harmed reputation”.

    In July a review of Gloucestershire Constabulary’s mounted unit was launched by the office of the police and crime commissioner (PCC), following the appointment of the new PCC Chris Nelson. During a meeting in September, the future of the unit was on the agenda; Mr Nelson said the review had found the current model was “not optimal”, and further work was requested.

    This week, Mr Nelson backed the case to retain the mounted unit, which has six horses.

    “I’m clear that the mounted section should continue as is and be focused more on the area of neighbourhood policing, night-time economy, [and] things like missing people – in addition to the role that people often talk to me about, which is public order, but that’s actually quite a small part of their business,” said Mr Nelson.

    “I wasn’t necessarily convinced when I started this [review] six months ago, and it’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this situation where now I can see the value of horses, and because I’m concentrating on zero tolerance on anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood policing, I think horses can play a key part in that, and I would like to see horses used more often in that role.”

    The force’s horses are currently used for patrolling the streets of Cheltenham and Gloucester on Friday and Saturday evenings. They were also involved in a number of high-profile operations and investigations including a mutual aid contribution at COP26, and “providing reassurance” following stabbings in Walton Cardiff in October, and other community concerns in Frampton on Severn.

    But Mr Nelson said he wants to see more “tangible intelligence” emanating from the mounted unit’s patrols, and that there are no plans to expand the unit.

    “I feel it has taken an unacceptably long period of time for the unit to get up to full operational strength and capability, which in my view has harmed its reputation,” he said.

    Gloucestershire Constabulary chief constable Rod Hansen said it was “very good news” to know where the force stands in relation to the mounted unit.

    “Mounted units and their officers are six times more visible in our communities than any other police asset. We know that they tend to draw a large crowd, in a positive way, and we also know that they are of course very useful for large gatherings of people, whether that’s a passive or hostile crowd,” he said.

    “What we want is just enough of all the capabilities that help us to keep the community safe from harm; whether that’s road policing vehicles, specialist firearms teams, patrol officers or police community support officers. We have a whole range of skills and capabilities, they’re all important. The sklll is to make sure we have just the right amount so we’re not overspending on it at the expense of something else.”

    Mr Hansen said were officers not on horses, they would be patrolling the community in another way.

    “It just happens to be more visibly on the back of a horse opposed to a car, where quite often we hear from the public that, ‘We might see a police officer but they’re zooming by in a car and there’s no change to engage’. Yes they come at some price, but it’s more about the value that they bring.”

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