Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department
Mounted police officers have the ability to be intimidating without projecting intimidation, because they are so visually impressive. I’ve never seen a police officer on horseback that does not present a positive image. Perhaps that positive image is the result of centuries of service horses have contributed to the development of civilizations. A mounted police officer projects authority, because a cop on top of a horse is literally ten feet tall.
Police Horses Interact well with People - Mounted Police
For decades, a trip to downtown Baltimore would feature mounted police officers engaged in various activities. Sure, you’d see an officer leaning from the saddle to slip a parking citation under the windshield wiper of an illegally parked car.
A move to the Inner Harbor, and you could see two mounted officers surrounded by Moms, Dads and their children. Talk about a good public image. One of the requirements for police horses is that they interact well with people.
I was always impressed how well the horses handled all the noise and traffic of the urban environment. A friend was a member of the mounted unit, and he experienced a peculiar situation. Without any warning, his horse suddenly threw him onto the pavement.
A few days later, it happened again at the same location. He solved the mystery after the second incident. They were near a construction site, and on both occasions a cement mixer was in operation. Thereafter, he simply avoided riding near cement mixers, and the problem was solved.
Politicians Don’t Get It - Mounted Police
In 2004, the Philadelphia Police Department disbanded their Mounted Police Unit comprised of 30 mounts. Philadelphia relinquished the title of the nation’s Oldest Mounted Police Unit to Baltimore. In 2011, Philadelphia reestablished its mounted unit with 11 horses, and hopefully, the unit will survive indefinitely. Baltimore maintained a stable of 25 police mounts for years, but by 2021 the number dwindled to only four.
Politicians incessantly talk about saving money. There’s no question that maintenance of police horses is not a cheap endeavor. However, there’s also no question that mounted police project a positive public image simply through passive presence. How do you determine the dollar value for positive appearances? The sad truth is that politicians never save money, they just reallocate money.
My Up Close Experience with a Police Mount
It was on my last shift as a patrol officer the night before I was promoted to sergeant. Two mounted police officers were in the district patrolling a high crime area. The mounted officers got into a fight with a group of bad guys, and the assist call came over the radio. I never made it to the scene since other officers got there ahead of me, and the assist call was called off.
Still three blocks away, I stopped at a stop sign and turned off my siren and roof lights. I was just about to cross over a wide north/south thoroughfare and continue to the scene just to see what was happening. As I began to move forward, I saw something moving toward me from the darkened street I was about to enter. Yea…you guessed it. It was a horse… but, just the horse.
The rider less police mount came out of the street, and he made a left turn as he continued to gallop northbound on the one-way southbound thoroughfare. Needless to say, a horse running against traffic, even on a fairly well-lit thoroughfare, was not a good circumstance. The situation was made worse since he’d entered a long stretch without any red lights where drivers would often reach speeds in excess of 50.
I swung in behind him, and I turned on every light I had…high beam headlights, red and blue roof lights, my door spotlight, and two spot lights contained in the roof bar lights. I reasoned the lights would sufficiently silhouette the horse so that southbound drivers couldn’t possibly miss what must have been an unusual sight.
It worked better than I’d hoped as southbound traffic continually moved to both curbs and stopped. We were far from out of the woods, because a few blocks ahead there was a major intersection. I was hesitant to use my siren for obvious reasons.
We neared the intersection, and I decided to risk passing the police mount and race to the intersection to stop all traffic. Before I executed the risky maneuver, the horse stopped galloping, and he turned toward the sidewalk. He walked slowly onto the sidewalk where he stopped and pressed his nose against the wall of a row house.
Now came the hard part. I got out of my car and slowly walked toward the horse. If you’ve ever spent any time around horses, you know the look they give you from the corner of the eye. It’s a look that says you have no idea how that horse is going to react to you.
I really had no choice but to grab onto his halter. There was a pretty big audience by that time, and it would have been terribly embarrassing if the police mount decided to continue his odyssey. I moved slowly as I reached out and put my hand around that leather.
Seconds later I was petting his head and talking dumb stuff to him just like I do with my dogs. The best part came when the mounted officer arrived to retrieve his horse. His gratitude was dwarfed only by his obvious affection for his horse, and his relief that no harm had come to his mount.
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