Detroit, Michigan is known as the “Motor City” a moniker earned by the many automotive companies established there. The first of course was Henry Ford who started selling Model T’s in 1908. These first cars had a top speed of 45 mph fueled by a 20 horse power engine. However, Henry’s Model T wasn’t the first horse power to make an impression in Detroit. Detroit’s Mounted Police unit was formed in 1893 – a full decade before the infusion of automobiles. The unit continues to patrol the city and holds claim to being one of the oldest mounted patrols in the country.
Detroit’s Mounted Police patrol major events but spend most of their time doing regular police work within the downtown neighborhoods. In a city where police are working to build trust and break barriers between the public and police, the mounted unit is an invaluable tool as adults and children alike can pet the horses and ask the officers questions. Sergeant Erik Eide, commanding offer of the Mounted Division considers the unit goodwill ambassadors for the police by presenting a humanized face to the public.
“Everybody wants to pet the horse,” says Eide. “That allows us to be a bridge gap between police officers and the community. To be in this unit, you have to be able to communicate, talk to people and children, and do effective outreach.”
Worldwide many mounted units are being dissolved or horses replaced by more economical bicycles and ATV’s (Read the WARHorse post about last year’s disbanding of the Saratoga State Park’s Mounted Patrol). Detroit is the exception to this trend. Since 2016 two horses have been added to the unit. 38 is the newest horse working with Capone, Hoosier, Ivan, Vader and Big Baby and Elmo.
Detroit’s mounted patrol is funded through private donations and funding from two government foundations. Additionally, a local business pledged funds through 2019. Annually the unit requires about $75,000 to $100,000. This modest funding means the division members take on a great deal of extra work. The officers clean stalls, maintain buildings, groom, feed and care for the horses themselves.
You have to really want to be here,” says Eide. “It’s also 480 hours of probably the most difficult training besides the special response team. It puts demand on the body most haven’t experienced before. Plus, you’re trying to control something that has a mind of its own.”
Once in the Mounted Division, officers are assigned their own horse ultimately developing a lasting relationship with them. There’s a 30-day trial period from when a new horse is donated to the unit to when it is deemed fit for service. On that day, the primary officer takes official ownership of the horse by naming it and shaving its mane. Eide’s horse is Hoosier, a black-coated, 7-year-old Percheron with a white star so named because the horse is from Indiana and Eide is fond of the movie “Hoosiers.”
After spending so much time caring for and riding their horses, Eide says an almost extra-sensory communication develops between officers and their animals that is essential to effective police work.
“It’s all in body language,” says Eide. “There’s nothing verbal. Eventually they’ll get to know what you want, and do it, just by you thinking about it.”
Sergeant Douglas Muston of the Detroit Mounted Unit says he is grateful to be able to carry on this long and proud tradition with the men and women in his unit.
“Until you’ve experienced it, you cannot appreciate the average day on horseback in our great city. People love to see and interact with our horses, not to mention the feeling of safety Mounted Officers provide.
Edited from the Following Resources: http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/mountedpolice032315.aspx, http://www.wxyz.com/news/horses-on-the-force-detroit-expands-mounted-police-patrols, http://www.dailydetroit.com/2016/06/07/strategic-staffing-solutions-support-detroit-police-mounted-unit-three-years/
Photography Courtesy: Marvin Shaouni, The Detroit Public Safety Foundation, Howard McGraw of the Detroit News.