How policing on horseback continues to be one of the most effective crime fighting tools

How policing on horseback continues to be one of the most effective crime fighting tools


Why do we need mounted police in 2020?

Modern police have been quick to embrace technology, with body cameras recording arrests, computers able to pull up your details in seconds and drones equipped with lights and sirens flying around to monitor social distancing.

But an ancient method of policing has retained its place despite the march of technology.

The centuries-old police horse has re-emerged as an extremely effective crime-fighting tool, beyond just keeping the drunk and disorderly at bay.

That is to say, they’re not just one-trick ponies.

“If you’ve got one horse, it’s like having 10 coppers on the ground,” said Senior Sergeant Glen Potter, the head of Western Australia’s Mounted Police section.

How policing on horseback continues to be one of the most effective crime fighting tools

Police horses and their handlers often find themselves in chaotic and dangerous situations. (AAP: James Ross)

“I mean, there’s no denying there is an intimidation factor there — if I need to break up a brawl, I can manoeuvre the horse into the brawl and separate it.

A community charm offensive

Police horses are etched into the public memory for being both a point of stability and force in turbulent situations, keeping order at mass protests, riots and large-scale events.

But they are also regularly required in remote areas of the country for search and rescue operations.

“We can cover a lot of ground with less people and at great height. We can go through some pretty thick bush, we can see far ahead,” Senior Sergeant Potter said.

How policing on horseback continues to be one of the most effective crime fighting tools

Horses are frequently deployed to rural areas to assist in land searches for missing persons.(ABC News: Kit Mochan)

“We save [a] significant amount of human resource and financial expense on a number of large searches where in the first hour, hour and a half, the team have located the missing person.”

But for Senior Sergeant Potter, who has been around horses his whole life, the true value of the mounted section lies in people’s fascination with the animals.

“There’s nothing like a horse to draw people in for discussion and to be remembered,” he said.

“If you see a police vehicle driving down Rokeby Road [a prominent cafe strip in Perth], you wouldn’t think twice … you wouldn’t remember it.

“And that’s the beauty of it. When people see horses and police officers on horses, they remember.

“If we put horses in a neighbourhood, we see a reduction in crime.

“It’s consistent, and it lasts for a few days after we’ve left, which is a good thing.

How policing on horseback continues to be one of the most effective crime fighting tools

Senior Sergeant Glen Potter oversees the WA Police Mounted Section, which was established in 1834.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

“We actually make a point of talking to people when we’re on horseback.

“They’re a fantastic way of engaging with people, not just crooks, but also good people, the general public.”

Senior Sergeant Potter said horses could bridge gaps with sections of the community that otherwise might not feel comfortable interacting with police.

“I’ve been on many jobs in the country with Indigenous people and quite often, suddenly they love the horse, and they want to come up and see the horse and touch the horse,” he said.

“Then the kids come up, and it’s just a great thing … it’s just wonderful. It really does break down barriers.”

Cutting edge police drones are a far cry from the traditional approach of horses

Police horses a rare breed

Finding the right horse for the job is a rare feat. It’s a balancing act of the animal’s temperament, size and stamina to work long, gruelling hours on the beat.

“People think ‘my old horse, he’ll be great police horse’, but that’s not the reality,” Senior Sergeant Potter said.

By Gian De Poloni


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