Finn’s Law. Do police horses have enough protection

The scenes at the Black Lives Matter protest in London of a police horse bolting riderless down Whitehall past the Cenotaph in terror while others came under attack with bicycles, flares, fireworks and other missiles was quite a poignant reminder of the war horses, and raises the question of whether they have enough protection under Finn’s law. Conservative MP Andrew Griffith thankfully responded to the issue by asking this question of Priti Patel in the House of Commons on Monday 8th. June, 2020:

“I am proud that it was a Conservative Government who introduced Finn’s law to protect our service animals. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will not rest until the minority of thugs involved in attacking the police horse, as well as, of course, our brave officers, are brought to justice?”

In response the Secretary of State for the Home Department said:

“My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we witnessed at the weekend was utterly despicable. I look forward to visiting the mounted police section quite soon. I have had it with authority from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that the injuries to the horse were mild, but importantly, she highlighted yet again how the acts of thuggery are disproportionate to not just police officers, but the animals”.

Finn’s Law named after stabbed police dog.

Coincidentally Finn’s Law or as it is formally named The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill came into force exactly a year to the day these incidents occurred. It was named after a German Shepherd Dog that was stabbed chasing an offender and is designed to protect service animals. It was heralded as the answer to protect them but cannot be effective unless it is enforced stringently and greatly publicised to make possible offenders aware of the protection these animals have and the consequences of injuring them.

But 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 incident received press coverage across the world which is not a particularly good UK animal welfare image.

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It is time to take Police horses off front-line duties.

A horse’s role must be hazardous if it needs protective gear just like it’s human colleagues.

Police horses wearing eye and face shields and leg protection.
Police horses with protective gear for their eyes, faces and legs to avoid injuries.

In this modern era of drunkeness and violence police horses and dogs are coming under increasing risk of being injured. Every football season horses supposedly there to protect citizens are injured and attacked by those they are there to protect. There is also the element that many people have no respect for animals as was obvious in an incident at a recent football match.

At the end of September 2019 at a Portsmouth – Southampton derby match, a 42 year old fan who surely should have known better, punched a police horse, ran away, was chased by the mounted officer and was arrested for animal cruelty and attempted criminal damage. The tragedy is that until he was chased by a dozen police officers he was finding the whole incident funny. See video.

In 2018, a police horse name “Morecombe” tragically died on Easter Monday while patrolling a League One football match between Blackpool and Fleetwood Town, having slipped while “responding to reports of disorder”. The Police rider was taken by air ambulance to hospital, but poor Morecombe  was pronounced dead at the scene after falling on a metal pole which punctured his stomach.

We are now well into the 21st century, with the Police possessing high-tech equipment for every eventuality including tasers, pepper spray, stab vests, high performance cars, big red keys, helicopters and who knows what and yet police forces around the world still seem unable to combat crime or deal with disturbances without resorting to using horses on the front-line putting them at risk of injury and death.

Back in November 2105 six police horses were injured when they were “glassed” by protesters during the million mask march in Central London. A horse named Embassy suffered serious injuries to his side, rear fetlock and front leg and others suffered glass injuries to their hind legs and one an eye injury caused by a stick. A woman was attacked by a demonstrator while trying to aid one of the horses and a mounted officer suffered a broken wrist. Such incidents are not uncommon.

I can unfortunately remember the awful scenes of police horses being attacked by vengeful coal miners during the riots in the seventies and we obviously haven’t moved on. In fact it is probably worse as in today’s society, where stabbing and shooting people has become common practice, there are no qualms about attacking or injuring a horse regardless of the new “Finn’s law”. We already resort to providing horses with protective guards for their eyes, faces and legs. Is it really necessary to keep using them in this way?

Six times more likely to speak to a policeman sitting on a horse.

According to research in 2014 by Oxford University and RAND Europe, police horses spend 60-70% of their working hours wandering the streets to increase the profile of the police and up to 20% employed in keeping public order at football matches and demonstrations with the rest taken up by ceremonial duties.

The advantages of having horses patrolling is that they have a “positive effect on public reassurance and helps keep people safe” according to Bernard Higgins an Assistant Chief Constable. They also have a “higher level of visibility giving more trust and confidence in the Police” as being 12 feet tall with the rider the public cannot miss them and tend to remember seeing them. This apparently gives a sense of  a better police presence rather than a policeman on foot. South and West Yorkshire police go as far as to say they are a “strong operational resource” and have decided to keep their horses.

We are apparently six times more likely to speak to a police officer on a horse than standing on his own two feet and the “novelty value”  encourages children and adults to approach to stroke the horse and engage in conversation.

If this research is correct it would seem more helpful to the police to have the horses solely on these public relations and ceremonial duties and remove them entirely from the 20% of dangerous situations. But there is also the question of whether the horses’ health and safety is compromised by being on slippery and traffic filled streets under any circumstances.

The UK’s forces are really in trouble if they have to use police horses because they believe their officers are unapproachable without them.

It would seem from this research that the UK Police are paranoid about their perceived image and believe the public are either frightened of them, hate them or find them unapproachable without a horse under them. If this is so it is a sad situation if they believe the public have more trust in a horse than themselves.

It might be that budget controls may solve the problem anyway as the number of mounted sections has reduced from 17 to only 12 recently. Nottinghamshire police decided to disbanded theirs in 2012,  as did Cleveland  whose Chief Constable stated it was “one of the hardest decisions and no way a reflection on the section itself”. They gave away their four horses to The Horse Trust charity to look after.

Other forces are doing their best to hang onto them. Merseyside Police were so desperate that in 2018 they considered getting corporate sponsorship for them and company logos on their saddles. An adopt a horse scheme was also considered and even a dinner with the Chief Constable at the Grand National.

Thames Valley,  Cleveland and Gloucester have also considered going down that road. Gloucestershire constabulary  have in fact just reinstated their mounted section after a 70 year absence on the basis it would raise their profile and the crime commissioner Martin Surl stated that research “shows people love to meet horses and it means officers are making more contact with the public on a daily basis.” They have borrowed horses and a horse-box from other forces.

Everyone loves to see a police horse and there is probably a good case to continue with them as “meeters and greeters” and for ceremonial purposes, but surely if the main purpose is to make the police more approachable and visible isn’t it time to get the officers out of their cars and onto the beat.

Updated June 2020

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