This blog was originally published in February 2013
For all sorts of reasons horses and especially police horses have been in the news recently. Sadly, the news in both respects has not been good. We are either eating horse meat thinking that it is beef or we are seeing the demise of mounted police patrol units in many constabularies.
Whilst the former is being dealt with by the legal authorities the latter is a sad state of affairs for modern day policing. Throughout my policing career I saw the Merseyside Police Mounted Department as a huge asset to the force. I first came across them during my probationer training at the Merseyside Police stables in Mather Avenue. To demonstrate their ‘ability’ to move a crowd we had to line up across the stable and stand there whilst the horses charged at us. We would be told when to break the line and move out of the way. Needless to say we did not wait to be told and ran to the side almost as soon as they got into a trot!
The horses played a crucial part in policing major events including football matches and there were many occasions when I was grateful for their assistance in dealing with difficult crowds or individuals. Having to Premier League grounds their skills were used almost every week. They were able to safely move groups and individuals and in the event that someone was causing a problem they would usually desist when the police horse turned up. If they didn’t they were usually picked up by tthe collar and removed at a canter.
The police horses played a crucial role in the miners dispute in the 1980s and I recall leading a mutual aid team that included police horses to Dyfed Powis Police Force to assist them in dealing with Anti Nazi League and BNP demonstrations in Welshpool. The senior officer from Dyfed Powis told me that they did not have a mounted section and was not sure what to do with them. I told him to just post them to their patrol area and they would do ‘their thing.’ They loved them.
Mounted horse sections being used for patrol purposes are nothing new. In fact they pre-date the ‘new police’ of Peel.
Prior to the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, instituted what is perhaps the greatest police reform in 1821 with the creation of the ‘Dismounted Horse Patrol.’
The quaintly named patrol in effect substituted for the Foot Patrol that, three months earlier had been withdrawn from the centre of London. Composed of 90 patrolmen, eight Sub-inspectors and four Inspectors, divided into four divisions, the Dismounted Horse Patrol patrolled nightly up and down the highways of London. Their beat extended for five miles from London with Mounted Patrol responsible for a jurisdiction from five to twenty miles from the city centre.
Horse Patrol recruits were required to serve first in the Dismounted branch, from which they may be promoted to the Mounted branch. The Dismounted force was apparently quite effective, apprehending 350 persons in its first nine months of existence. The combined Horse Patrol, Dismounted and Mounted branch was annually funded at £16,000 and formed the ‘strongest’ single professional force in the Metropolis before Peel’s new police came into being.
The irony of this is that while Peel himself died as a result of falling off a horse, the current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, is a keen horse rider and has ridden police horses on patrol in Merseyside and in London.
So while the destiny of the police mounted section hangs in the balance in many constabularies, the mounted section in the Met, one would suspect, is safe for the time being.
From a public order and public relations point of view, the mounted sections are worth their weight in gold. I wonder if anyone has a small pot of gold that they can spare to ensure that this longest serving branch of policing will remain?