The man in charge of policing in Nottinghamshire, PCC Paddy Tipping, has said he is going to ask for the opinions of the people of his county with regard to reinstating the Mounted Section of their police force – which was closed down only last year. The seven horse strong unit would apparently cost more than £400,000 to re-establish – four times what was apparently saved by closing the unit down in the first place.
But Nottinghamshire is not the only police force to disband their mounted units, and with everyone acknowledging that massive savings have to be achieved in police budgets, and there are undoubtedly more cuts to come, is the expense of a Mounted Section justifiable ? or would that money be better spent on recruiting more officers to the front line ?
But, and lets just talk hypothetically here; if the budget was to be found from somewhere, would it be best spent on horses ? … or perhaps more useful would be returning helicopter numbers to what they were before the advent of the National Police Air Service (NPAS).
The NPAS was itself launched in a fanfare on the 1st October 2012, telling us how by combining services, removing county boundaries, and centrally coordinating police helicopter activities, we would get a better service, with less helicopters, for less money.
Certainly the policing minister Damien Green MP was right when he said at the launch “Crime or the need to search doesn’t stop at county boundaries. It is actually the deployment and the speed of deployment that makes a difference“. The fly in the ointment appears to be though that you have to have the helicopters in the right place, at the right time, to make that difference.
And with reports that some areas; the South West, the North of England and the whole of Wales not having any ‘direct’ night time helicopter cover as a result of the changes and having to rely on a helicopter coming (in some cases) from a very long distance away, it’s had to see how it works.
The issue was covered in considerable detail by ‘PoliceAirCrew’ in their blog on the subject A Comment on Police Air Support
But let’s not kid ourselves, we may think a few horses are expensive to run but helicopters are a whole new ball game. They cost a lot of money to keep in the air. heck they cost a lot of money to keep on the ground. But the benefits they provide to policing in general are many; they are wide and varied, from taking command and monitoring pursuits, searching wide areas for fleeing offenders or missing people, using their thermal camera equipment to detect drug factories from many thousands of feet in the air, the uses of a helicopter crew are endless.
So ….. would the hypothetical money earmarked for horses be better spent on more helicopters, that can get to more places, more quickly and help solve more crimes, and find more missing people ? …. or would it be even better spent on more police dogs ?
Ask any bobby on the beat what the most useful and helpful ‘specialist’ role available to them virtually 24 hours a day is, and most of them will say ‘Ham and Cheese’ ! .. No, no they won’t, most of them will say the police dog. For general volume crime work, police dogs are invaluable. They are great in crowd control situations (as are horses), they are great in searches and catching fleeing villains (as are helicopters), they are great at sniffing out drugs on people, in cars, in buildings. Some are trained to sniff out hidden money and in some cases, injured or dead people.
You cannot underestimate the usefulness of a police dog and it’s handler. Full stop. But their numbers have also been cut drastically. And that can only make things harder for the officers on the ground who are trying to solve the crimes, and catch the bad guys.
So ….. in that case, would the cash be better spent on increasing the number and availability of police dog units ?
Out of interest therefore, if you had to choose (hypothetically of course), just one of the three to spend your allocated budget on, helicopters, hounds or horses, which would you decide ??