Story by Lorie Miller
Photography by Melanie Litten et al
The Friends of the Mounted Patrol (FMP) is a group of private citizens who work on a volunteer basis to support the New Castle County Police Mounted Patrol Unit (MPU) in Delaware. The FMP was founded in 2009 to save the Mounted Patrol when the Unit was in jeopardy due to budget cuts. We believe the MPU is so important to law enforcement that we are committed to ensure it is never in jeopardy again. To this end, we inform the public about the necessity of the Unit and raise funds to support the ongoing needs of the active duty and retired horses.
The MPU was established in 1981 and is the only full-duty working mounted patrol in Delaware. It deploys teams of officers and horses on a daily basis throughout New Castle County to enforce traffic laws, patrol high-crime neighborhoods, perform terrain searches and aid in crowd control. In addition, the public’s intrigue with the horses provides a unique opportunity for vital public relations within communities, local schools, businesses, and other organizations. The Unit currently has 12 active duty horses and 1 younger horse, Julio, in training. Twelve of the horses are Clydesdales and one, Tonka, is a Percheron. The Unit has been using draft horses for about 25 years. These “gentle giants” have great dispositions for patrol work where they are exposed to many different noises, people, and situations. Their size is also beneficial in crowd control situations where having an officer’s vantage point about 8-10 feet off the ground and 1900 pounds underfoot provides an equivalent presence to 10-20 officers on the ground.
Our horses come from a variety of places including PMU farms in Canada and farms in Delaware, Indiana, and Missouri. Two of the active duty horses, Warden and Wrangler, came to us when they were 6 and 5 months old, respectively, and were raised and trained with the other horses. Others come when older but still need to pass the extensive training needed to become a patrol horse. Once on the Unit, the horses serve as long as they are willing and able to do the job safely. The Unit has had active duty horses ranging from 3 to 21 years old. When a horse is ready to retire, there is an extensive process in place to ensure they are placed in a good home. Officers who have partnered with that horse are given priority. If the horse has special needs, the money raised by the FMP can be used to support those needs as County funds only support the active duty horses.
So what does it take to become a patrol horse? Nerves of steel and a calm disposition in a variety of strange situations. Patrol might bring traffic, crowds of people, and noises such as sirens, horns, and gunfire. Urban areas might bring see-through metal bridges, shifting terrain, and water that looks like a bottomless hole in the asphalt. Parkland might bring narrow passages, thick brush, and wildlife. In order to learn to deal with these challenges, the horses are gradually exposed to various stimuli and advanced through training as they learn to tolerate each task. They also learn to push heavy objects that mimic a crowd of people and are taught controlled team maneuvers to rescue people from hostile crowds, peel people away from a building, or direct crowds as needed.
The human officers must also endure rigorous training to make this Special Operations Unit. To even be considered for the Unit, they must have already served a minimum of two years as a police officer, be a member of the NCCPD, and be accepted into and complete a separate 13-week training academy. Officers must be capable of performing nearly all of their duties without getting off the horse. They run radar and issue tickets from the horse. They arrest people from the horse. The Unit has a “get up or get out” policy where all officers must be able to mount and dismount without external assistance. In addition, the officers are taught how to care for the horses and equipment. Officers are not required to have prior riding experience but must be able to deal with the physical demands of this assignment and the exposure to the elements while patrolling.
There are many reasons why a community might benefit from a Mounted Unit but one of the biggest reasons is the word “community.” The presence of the horses provides an entirely different dynamic between officers and members of the public. The horses provide a more visible and a more approachable police presence. The horses are a huge draw which provides our police force with an invaluable asset. They are deployed into high-risk areas where recent patterns of crime necessitate a visible and consistent presence. The Unit will be deployed in these areas for hours and days at a time rather than a patrol car driving through from time to time. This encourages people to come out of their homes and then the horses provide the catalyst for communication to happen between the officers and the community. For this very reason, the horses may be deployed to canvas following major crimes because people are much more comfortable talking with the officers on horseback. As any mounted officer will tell you “nobody ever tried to pet my police car.”
Despite all these positives, Mounted Units can become a target of budget cuts as ours did in 2009. When this happened, citizens who supported the Mounted Unit thought this was shortsighted and formed the Friends of the Mounted Patrol. The thought was that if the public understood the value of the Unit and if funds raised could help offset the budget shortfalls that the Unit could be saved and that’s exactly what happened. Today, the Unit enjoys more support from the chain of command and elected officials that it did in 2009 but the risk is always there that this could happen again. Our mission is to engage the public so that the Unit will never be dissolved and to raise funds to support the ongoing needs of the Unit and any special needs of our retired horses. We have used our funds to provide items such as a run-in shed, lead ropes for special events, custom made riot shields, custom saddles, and even a horse. We have paid to support our Unit’s participation in the National Association of Police Equestrian Championships (NAPEC) – an annual training and competition where our horses have consistently earned ribbons in equitation, uniform, and obstacle course events. We have also supplied custom shoes for a retired mount that needed them for more comfort in his new home and supplements for another retiree. As you can imagine, custom made equipment for horses of this size is not cheap. A single saddle can cost between $3000 and $4000 but we felt that the comfort of the horses and rider were worth the investment given the hours spent in the saddle for our benefit.
To raise the needed funds, we sell merchandise starring our horses, engage a large social media audience from around the world, and host events such as our annual “Miles for the Mounted Patrol” 5K through the trails of Carousel Park – home of the Mounted Patrol. We have provided over $70,000 of support thanks to our sponsors, donors, and customers.
Our group also donates a lot of time helping groom horses for events, setting up booths at local festivals, and interacting with all the pieces of the puzzle needed to help the Unit support our community. This includes the staff of the County Equestrian Center where the horses are housed, the County staff for events, the New Castle County Police Department, and of course the Unit itself…. And we love every minute of it!
We urge everyone to learn about your local Mounted Unit and support its efforts. We sincerely believe that the horses create an invaluable connection between law enforcement and the community and have seen the difference in New Castle County. If you would like to follow and support our efforts, please follow us on Facebook (FriendsMountedPatrolNCCDE), Instagram (#clydesdale_cops) or our website at clydesdalecops.org. You can also contact us through Facebook Messenger or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the August 2017 Issue of Sport and Trail Magazine >