As a big fan of the mounted police, I was dismayed to hear last month that a football fan punched a police horse during the clash at the Tyne-Wear derby.
The man claimed that after walking out the pub he saw a spooked horse coming at him and simply reacted in order to defend himself. Now anyone would be pretty scared if a horse came at them, but to punch a horse is not on.
Thankfully the horse named Bud was not hurt, but this goes to show how animals at the front line can be put in harm's way and also proves the vital service they provide.
Sadly, not everyone feels that way. Just last year the Essex mounted police unit was disbanded for the second time, just five years after they had been reintroduced to Essex. In another sad example of budget cuts, the police cut this unit in order to save an estimated £600,000 a year. Now I know this is a lot of money, but surely there are other areas that could have been cut that are not as vital?
The mounted unit provide a service that the normal police cannot. Look at the way they helped during the Tottenham riots in 2011 and also at football matches, protests and concerts. In an article in the Evening Standard published on the 9th May 2013, the Met sent in the mounted unit to help with groups of Eastern Europeans sleeping rough in the West End.
Met police sergeant Simon Reason said in the article that "officers on horses have a specific role. It means increased visibility. They also have a different viewpoint and can spot things we don't." The police on horses were able to support officers on foot and the UK Border Agency at troublespots including Marble Arch and Walmer Place.
They can also help in times of security. When I was undertaking work experience at the Essex Chronicle in 2009, I had the pleasure of speaking to the mounted unit as they helped with security measures for the G20 summit. They were the only mounted unit at Stansted Airport and stood guard at the Harrods terminal when Air Force One arrived and departed with President Obama and his wife.
Only this month we heard how South Yorkshire's mounted police had been saved from closure after the county's police force confirmed last year that it was reviewing the unit. The number of staff and horses are to be cut down, but thankfully the main unit will still be in use.
Mounted police are used all over the world, particularly in America. This goes to show that more should be done to keep these units going. Who are you more likely to walk up to in a busy town centre - two police officers standing side by side or two police horses with officers? I know which one I'd pick!
- There are only 16 police forces in England and Wales that retain a mounted unit
- The horses used are more than 16.2 hands and can stand with a police officer at around 10ft tall to help provide high visibility in crowds
- Generally only one in 30 horses are chosen for the job and even then the horse still has a month's trial to see if it is suitable
- They must have a calm temperament and are usually quite stocky as it suits the job
- Some units even help to find missing people. For example in 2010 they were deployed alongside the marine unit to help find an Essex man with dementia who had gone missing from his home.