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Is it time to take service animals off the force?

There have been a lot of news stories, and other media coverage, over the last couple of months relating to the protests that have taken place in multiple countries.

The protests have been for numerous reasons, but one common issue is the debate of using mounted police offers within the force.

Is this animal cruelty or not?


What are mounted police?

These are officers who patrol on horseback or camelback.

When and where did they originate?

Mounted police are said to have first originated in France during the early 18th century, to enable officers to travel easily along the rustic roads and through the countryside. This phenonium then became a necessity within European states, up until the early 20th century. Due to this establishment catching on within Africa, the Americas and Asia during the colonial and post-colonial eras, it has become accepted worldwide for years.

Is it suitable to use horses in modern-day society?

From seeing in the media how these magnificent animals get badly treated while working within the force, due to being entangled in riots and whatever else, the question is, is it time to re-evaluate the use of horses within the police? Should this tradition be abandoned within modern society?

To answer this, we have to look at the negatives and positives, which are listed below.

NEGATIVES – Mounted Police

  • Mounted officers are assigned to patrol outdoor environments. They are not suited for residential or business areas such as shopping centres which limits their functions.
  • Horses can have difficulty turning or stopping on pavements.
  • Mounted officers have limited radio communications.
  • There is no storage for crucial police equipment.
  • If an officer dismounts and moves away from their animal, there could be casualties amongst civilians if it becomes frightened.
  • Horses could run into danger and become injured if their handler is absent: wander towards a busy road, fall into a ditch, for example.
  • Members of the public may try to bother, scare, or even attack the horses, causing them distress, fear and possibly injuries.
  • Extreme weather conditions can also affect the horses’ mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Retired horses can sometimes find it hard to settle down after their strenuous career.

POSITIVES – Mounted Police

  • Mounted police officers have a better field of vision due to their added height – this helps to prevent crime and allows civilians to identify police officers from afar.
  • Mounted officers can move around easily and freely.
  • In the event of a riot, the mounted officers can circle off and detain offenders.
  • Some mounted police departments train to play an active role in search and rescue jobs, as the horses can enter areas that are not accessible to police cars and other vehicles. 
  • Police horses are said to receive a high standard of care and attention to their welfare needs.  
  • A lot of money is spent on the maintenance and training of the horses. For example, in 2018, the UK’s Metropolitan Police had access to or owned 98 horses and spent around:
    • £9.4m on staffing, bedding and feed
    • £200k on the Vet/Dental budget
  • The horses are allowed to express normal behaviours when they are not being ridden and can socialise with each other.
  • Retired horses are usually sold and rehomed, or their groomers could even choose to take them in.

But what about Finn’s Law (UK)?

Finn’s law, which refers to the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, was created and named after a police dog called Finn. He was fighting for his life after being injured with a knife, whilst protecting his handler. This legislation prevents “those who attack or injure service animals from claiming self-defence” and came into force on 8 June 2019.

GOV.UK. states:

“This new legislation, coupled with the government’s plans to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty offences to five years in prison, will make sure those who harm service animals are punished accordingly. According to the group which led the campaign for this law, more than 100 other service animals have been injured since 2012. This includes injuries such as being beaten with an iron bar, kicked or hit by a car.”

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So, what about the use of canines in the police force?

When mentioning Finn’s Law, it seems only right that the use of police dogs should also be discussed. Many people think it is unfair to put man’s best friend in this situation. As unlike people, these animals do not get a choice in their chosen career.

According to data released in 2008, that year saw 2,500 mounted police dogs employed around various police forces in the UK.

According to the BBC, since 2009, more than 200 forces abandoned their use of police dogs. Additionally, 48 police forces in the UK were asked to provide data on police dogs and horses, from a period of five years. Out of this number, 37 supplied data, which enabled insightful judgments to be made, while the others did not respond or gave minor information. As of 2014, these 37 forces had 1,983 police dogs in total.

The most popular breed of dogs that the police use is Belgian Malinois.

Below are some negatives and positives of using police dogs.

NEGATIVES – Police Dogs

  • Despite extensive training, the dogs still possess their canine instincts and can become overexcited or frightened. In some cases, these emotions have caused the dogs to bite their handlers or civilians.
  • Working in the K9 unit can be difficult for both the dogs and the handlers, as many dogs become injured or killed in the line of duty.

POSITIVES – Police Dogs

  • Canines have a keen sense of smell, around 50 times more efficient than humans, meaning they are useful during searches for missing people. Trained dogs can also sniff out bombs, drugs, people and other potential threats which can help keep communities safe and free of danger.
  • The dogs are assigned to numerous positions such as airport security, local police forces and officers who assist with border patrol.
  • If a dog is injured in the line of duty and recovers, then they will most likely receive the necessary treatment before living as a normal pet – usually with their handler.
  • In many instances, a retired police dog will also reside with their handler or placed in a caring home suitable to accommodate the size, breed and temperament of the dog.

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What are animal welfare activists saying on the topic?

Animal Rights and Wrongs UK states, in regards to the London protests in June 2020:

“There is also a great need for police horses and dogs to be treated in the same way as the officers when it comes to health and safety assessments of their use in each specific operation or situation. Obviously, the real answer is not to use them in the first place. In this instance, it did not seem sensible or safe for them to be utilised in a charge of the light brigade type onslaught in wet weather conditions to frighten and push a mob from the streets. I am surprised that horse charities and the RSPCA are not more vociferous over this issue.”

The British Horse Society (BHS), who work alongside the police, MP’s, road safety partnerships and other organisations to ensure the safety of equestrians, have calculated that from November 2010 to March 2019, there have been 3,737 road incidents involving horses reported to them. Although, they estimate that the figure for incidents involving horses is much higher. According to the BHS, only 1 in 10 incidents involving horses gets reported. In this period, 315 horses and 43 people have died. BHS has not shared what percentage of these incidents involve mounted police. But they state that: ‘reporting factual data really can make a difference to equine safety as it allows us to lobby and advise MPs, road safety partnerships, the police and other safety organisations.’

Guest article by Gemma Griffiths

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