Mounted police units in neighbourhoods ‘boost confidence and trust’ | University of Oxford

Mounted police units in neighbourhoods ‘boost confidence and trust’

19 November 2014

Researchers have measured the value of mounted police units in the UK. They have found that the high visibility of the police horses and riders on neighbourhood patrols boosts levels of public confidence in the police. In trials, the researchers from the University of Oxford and RAND Europe observed that mounted police units generated around six times more public interest than foot patrols over the same period although most of these interactions were brief (the number of longer conversations was similar for both mounted police and foot patrols). Over half of the residents questioned at one trial site in Gloucestershire, interviewed after the patrols had taken place, said they had noticed mounted units in their area. This was the highest proportion of respondents to report they had noticed mounted units in their neighbourhood.

During the 18-month study, the researchers assessed the impact of mounted units in different roles. The researchers examined public reactions to mounted units on neighbourhood patrols, a music festival, at football matches and public demonstrations. Neighbourhood patrols by pairs of mounted police officers were trialled in three areas in Gloucestershire and London in March 2014. Interviews with police at the start of the project suggested that mounted units were broadly viewed as a resource for crowd control. However, the new research shows that mounted units have substantial value in other scenarios too, particularly in a neighbourhood policing role. Mounted units were found to help build positive relationships with the public, acting as an “ice-breaker” for encouraging greater interaction between police officers and members of the public.

Public surveys also tested whether the mounted unit patrols had an effect on public trust and confidence in the police. The researchers found that the use of mounted patrols had a bolstering effect on trust and confidence in the trial sites, when compared to opinion in three control sites that did not receive mounted patrols. The size of this effect amounted to a greater than 10 percentage point shift in opinion, on some measures.

At the Glastonbury Festival in June 2014, the researchers also observed over three times more interactions between festival-goers and mounted police than with officers on foot, with most of these interactions being positive.

Study co-author Dr 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. Although most of the exchanges we saw were brief, they tended to be very friendly, and the patrols increased police visibility. 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.’

The report highlights that mounted units also play a unique role at crowd events where disorder is likely. It says they appear to be able to intervene when other resources, such as police on foot or in vehicles, would be ineffective or even risk aggravating the situation. Mounted police at football matches were found to have a small, but statistically significant effect on levels of disorder. However, the report is cautious about overestimating the need for mounted police at all crowd events, saying it is difficult to attribute successful outcomes solely to the presence of mounted units.

Study co-author Dr Chris Giacomantonio, a researcher with RAND Europe and the University of Oxford, said: ‘We have shown for the first time how the value of mounted units can be systematically measured and demonstrated. From what we’ve found, it seems clear that they have a substantial value at neighbourhood level and police forces across the UK are increasingly recognising this.’

The study notes that the number of mounted sections across England, Scotland and Wales has fallen from 17 in 2012 to 12 in 2014, raising a number of questions about both local and national policing capacity. The report stresses that it does not set out to recommend to forces how they spend their budgets or whether they should have mounted units. Instead, it provides systematic evidence on the ‘demonstrable and measurable impact of mounted police units’ in different scenarios.

Commenting on the findings, the national lead for mounted policing, Deputy Chief Constable Rod Hansen, said: ‘This provides the police with new evidence suggesting that mounted units still have great utility in modern policing, particularly in neighbourhoods. In the light of this, 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.’

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Notes to Editors:

  • The study will be presented and discussed at the national mounted policing symposium at the University of Oxford on 19 November.
  • RAND Europe is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to help improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.
  • The report, ‘Making and Breaking Barriers: Assessing the value of mounted police units in the UK’, will be published on Wednesday 19 November 2014. The study ran over 18 months starting in February 2013.  Once live, the full report can be viewed on RAND Europe’s website at http://www.rand.org/randeurope/research/projects/mounted-police-uk.html
  • The study was commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers, with the support of the College of Policing, the Police Federation and a number of police forces. They received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, the John Fell Fund at the University of Oxford, and Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

    Study background
    The researchers estimate that mounted police are engaged in neighbourhood policing for up to 70% of all the time they spend in public-facing settings; 10-15% of their time is dedicated to crowd and public order events; and the remainder is taken up by other duties, particularly ceremonial work and community engagement activities such as school visits.

    The researchers observed public responses to mounted units in Gloucestershire, London and at the Glastonbury Festival, as well as at football matches and other public order settings. (In April 2014, researchers observed how the public responded to mounted units at the March for England in Brighton; and a National Front leafleting event in Oxford in July 2014. At both events, mounted police were primarily used to maintain a barrier between opposing groups.) The researchers interviewed focus groups that had mounted and non-mounted police officers, as well as football fans and individual police officers. They also conducted a cost analysis of mounted units in the UK; and conducted a questionnaire with senior mounted police in other countries about the value they attached to mounted units in carrying out police work.

    The researchers also examined data on arrests, ejections, and levels of disorder from three years of Premier League and Championship matches between 2010 and 2012, comparing those games where mounted police were present with games without.

    Cost of mounted units
    The report estimates that a mounted police officer costs approximately £6,550 more per annum than a comparable police officer, such as a dog handler or weapons officer, although this differential varied widely between forces. They say the cost differential can depend on how forces report data to the Police Objective Analysis (POA). Alongside this POA analysis, the Directors of Finance at four constabularies (who took into account the costs of training, equipment, purchases, feeding and vets’ bills), provided data to the project suggesting that the annual cost of a mounted police officer is around £15,500-£22,000 above core costs for keeping an officer in the field on an annual basis.