Hampshire Police Federation has criticised the use of civilian riders with branded uniforms as part of the Horsewatch scheme in rural areas
A rural crime crackdown in parts of Hampshire has come under fire from the police union.
Hampshire Constabulary’s Horsewatch scheme involves 12 civilian horse riders in branded uniforms reporting suspicious activity to the police. The force says it will help in times of financial pressure but Hampshire Police Federation is not impressed.
Chairman John Apter, said: “To dress up well-meaning members of the public and their horses in police-style uniform is a step too far.
“We have more than 400 fewer police officers than we did three years ago and this scheme is conning the public that there are more officers on patrol than there actually are.
“Volunteers play an important role in supporting the police but they should never be used for such visible front line patrols as this.
“Some would say this is the Big Society in action, others would say it’s just a big con.”
The 12 volunteers will patrol a number of areas across the county, including the rural areas of Tunworth, Mapledurwell, Upton Grey and Greywell, near Hook and Odiham.
The force said at first glance the rural mounted patrols look like any other horse rider out for a casual hack but on closer inspection, their high-visibility branded jackets and protective clothing for the horses, incorporating the recognisable blue and silver-diced branding, identify them as part of
It added the volunteers, who will have no more power of arrest than any other citizen, will be on the lookout for any rural crimes, including theft of equine equipment, fly-tipping, metal theft, deer poaching and sheep rustling, and will report anything suspicious back to the police control room.
Rural crime Hampshire Horsewatch co-ordinator David Collings, said: “With the reduction of funding being experienced within the police service there is a need to be as dynamic and imaginative as
we can to cover rural policing in Hampshire.
“The riders will patrol an area they are familiar with, providing high-visibility reassurance and engagement with communities.
“They will observe, liaise and report anything they see which warrants police attention.”
The force pays for volunteer riders’ high-visibility jackets and head bands, and their horses are equipped with reflective sheets and leg wraps.
As police volunteers, the riders and their horses are obliged to put in a certain amount of time each month – usually about eight hours.
They are also expected to keep their tack in good order and make sure their horse is ‘clean and tidy’. They do not get paid and have to provide their own horse.
Hampshire is not the first county to take on such riders, as Avon and Somerset already has them while other forces, including Hertfordshire and Norfolk, have trained special constables who patrol on horseback.
Mary Rampton, a rural mounted patroller for Tunworth, Mapledurwell, Upton Grey and Greywell, said she was happy to help the rural community.
“My pony and I enjoy riding the bridleways, farmland and around the local lanes,” she added. “Meeting people and gaining their confidence in what I am doing is very satisfying.”
Colleague Jayne Chewter, said: “Being involved with the mounted rural patrol gives us an opportunity to use our riding skills and experience in the hope of reducing crime within our local community.
“Our voluntary work provides additional support to rural police officers who are unable to cover the terrain we can.
“We see our role as building links between the community and the local police.”
Chief Inspector Simon Dodds, the force’s lead on rural policing, said: “Having police volunteers on horseback is an exciting development in how rural areas of the force are patrolled.
“Working in partnership with rural neighbourhood teams, the riders will help combat crime in some of our more isolated communities.”