LOTHIAN and Borders Police is set to lose its mounted section after more than 130 years, it was revealed today.
The unit has been recommended for closure, with the horses transferred to Strathclyde Police as part of plans to save £52,000 a year.
The mounted section, based at the Fettes HQ, has five horses along with seven officers who are sent out on regular patrols as well as policing events such as football matches.
Under the plans, the animals would move to Strathclyde’s mounted section, based at an Ayrshire farm, and only return to the Lothians for specific duties, while the officers would be deployed elsewhere. Police chiefs said the move was aimed at helping meet its tight budget, as well as planning ahead for the single Scottish police expected to come into being as early as next April.
But the proposals today sparked concern that the redeployment would reduce services in the community, which have included mounted patrols in areas such as Princes Street Gardens and the Meadows, and lead to further centralisation of resources.
Along with saving the £52,000 a year spent on food, care and equipment for the horses, the force would no longer need to pay for a replacement horse carrier costing £100,000.
In a report to the police board on the proposal, Chief Constable David Strang states that the mounted section has been in existence for “over 130 years in various guises” but that a review was needed to consider the sustainability of the service.
Superintendent Douglas Lynch, branch commander for special operations, which includes the mounted section, said: “We’re going through a root and branch review of all areas of service delivery, not only for our force but also looking at what can be joined up naturally with other forces.
“Only ourselves and Strathclyde have a mounted section. There was an option to disband the section, but we did not perceive that as the way to go. Strathclyde have a set-up four times the size of ours in terms of numbers of animals. A lot of people have a great affection for seeing the officers and horses out and about, but our overriding responsibility is to deliver services while making savings.”
Supt Lynch said that consultations were continuing with the Strathclyde force over the suggested move while the “everyday” work of the mounted section was being examined to gauge which services would be lost.
He added: “We would keep our stables at Fettes so horses could be kept there while being deployed in the force area. Officers from the mounted section could continue to train with the horses to keep up their skills. They could then ‘buddy up’ with Strathclyde officers for duties in Lothian and Borders.”
A former mounted police officer said: “We used to have special constables who borrowed horses from the Royal Scots Greys at Redford Barracks, and it started off from there. It was always grey horses they used to have.”
Scottish Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: “I would hope this proposed decision can be justified on policing terms. I understand the need for savings but the first priority for the chief constable is to ensure the services being delivered meet the needs of the area.”
Councillor Iain Whyte, police board convenor, said: “The chief constable has given me assurances that the transfer of the mounted section will not diminish the services in Lothian and Borders, but it’s something the police board will have to look at carefully. But given the savings needed, and with the Scottish Government’s decision to move to a single police force, the mounted section is obviously an area which can be looked at.”
A Strathclyde Police spokeswoman said the force could not comment on the proposed move, which was a matter for Lothian and Borders Police.