Mounted police boost public trust, report for Acpo says
Levels of public trust and confidence in police are higher when officers are deployed on horseback, a report suggests.
The number of mounted units in Britain has fallen from 17 in 2012 to 12 in 2014, amid pressures on budgets.
And the study commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers set out to assess the value of the patrols.
Researchers say they could have a greater role in neighbourhood policing.
Interviews with police and the public were conducted by the University of Oxford and research group RAND Europe between February 2013 and August 2014.
They examined the reaction of members of the public when neighbourhood patrols by pairs of mounted police officers were trialled in three areas in Gloucestershire and London in March 2014.
They also looked at the use of mounted units at the Glastonbury Festival, football matches and demonstrations.
On average, police on horseback were said to have six times as many casual interactions with the public as those on foot patrol. But the study said their value also depended on the character of the rider, with the more personable and outgoing an officer, the better.
The report acknowledged the "unique role" mounted units had in dealing with crowds and disorder, highlighting situations where police on foot or in vehicles would be ineffective.
But it was, it added, difficult to say "successful outcomes" at crowd events were solely down to the presence of mounted units.
A "primary benefit" in using mounted units in neighbourhood policing was attributed to the patrols increasing the visibility of officers.
Report co-author Ben Bradford, from the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford, said: "In community settings, the horse and rider combination appears to act as a sort of ambassador and 'ice-breaker' for the police.
"People come up to say 'hello' or to make a fuss of the horse before having a quick conversation with the officer."
He added: "Many people react positively to greater police visibility in their neighbourhood, and we believe this translated into higher levels of trust and confidence in the areas where the mounted patrols took place."
Acpo's national lead for mounted policing, Deputy Chief Constable Rod Hansen, said the research provided forces with "new evidence suggesting that mounted units still have great utility in modern policing".
"Despite the financial limitations, we must ensure that we do not inadvertently lose a capability that offers so much to policing services without fully understanding the consequences," he said.
The researchers say the drop in mounted units in recent years "raises a number of questions about both local and national policing capacity".
But they say their report does not set out to recommend how forces spend their budgets or whether they should have mounted units.
The British police forces with mounted sections are: Avon and Somerset Constabulary; City of London Police; Greater Manchester Police; Lancashire Constabulary; Merseyside Police; Metropolitan Police; Northumbria Police; Police Scotland; South Wales Police; South Yorkshire Police; Thames Valley Police, and West Yorkshire Police.