Dallas Police Department Mounted Unit: The Men in the Saddles

December 8, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Christine Jonas
cjonas@smu.edu

A horse warms up in front of the Dallas Police Department Mounted Unit barn located at Fair Park in Dallas. (Photo by Christine Jonas/Beyond Bubble staff).


When little kids dream of what they will be when they grow up, police officer is often at the top of their lists. When a new Dallas police officer has to pick a division within the police department, many dream of joining the Dallas Police Department’s Mounted Unit.

The Mounted Unit is a division of the police department where police officers patrol on horseback.

“We are still police officers, we just happen to do it off of horseback,” said Senior Corporal John Nichols of the Dallas Police Department. “We are trained to pursue, apprehend, handcuff and search from the saddle.”

There is a lot of competition to become a mounted police officer, but not everyone is cut out for it. The selective and highly desired Dallas Police Department’s Mounted Unit consists of 15 male senior corporal’s who make up a sort of “boys club” on horses.

“There are a lot of units where there is a lot of in-fighting and petty crap that you get tired of,” said Nichols. “That’s not what you find in the Mounted Unit. Here, you come to a unit where everyone’s pretty much on the same page, everyone gets along, everyone has similar personalities, similar sense of humors. A big part of getting hired here is fitting in.”

Currently, there are no women in the Mounted Unit. Nichols said it was not because they are not allowed to join, but because none have applied or passed the training program recently.

At the Mounted Unit horse stables located at Fair Park in Dallas one day recently, horses were in the stalls while the police officers gather upstairs in the coffee lounge.

Senior Corporal Scott Shepherd said that once an officer comes out of the Police Academy he or she must work in patrol for a few years before they are eligible to take a senior corporals test.

Four Senior Corporal officers warm up their horses with trainer Senior Corporal Eric Knight at the Dallas Police Department Mounted Unit stables at Fair Park in Dallas. (Photo by Christine Jonas/Beyond the Bubble staff).


Once an office is promoted to the rank of senior corporal, he or she can apply to work for the Mounted Unit. Applying is difficult because openings are rarely available.

“Once an officer gets picked,” he said. “They pretty much complete a seven week school.”

The school in Dallas is rigorous both physically and mentally. Most officers that apply have never ridden a horse, and if they have, they have to re-learn everything they know about riding.

“About 40 percent of applicants pass the school and test,” said Senior Corporal Eric Knight. “People that don’t make the school quit, they don’t fail. We have only had one guy actually fail the test, and that was three years ago.”

Though it is a desired unit, budget cuts have made it difficult to build up a large force. So even though there is an interest in the unit, the police department cannot bring on many new officers.

The Mounted Unit has a yearly budget of about $2.8 million, and of that budget, $2.2 million goes to salaries, according to Knight. That doesn’t leave much money annually for the horses, but if they stay healthy, each horse costs about $3 a day for hay, feed and supplements. Vet bills, horseshoes and equipment bills must also be added in when needed. The officers do the majority of the care-taking for the horses, so barn costs also stay relatively low.

Nichols said the work ethic in the Mounted Unit is a step higher than the job other people do. The officers must groom and feed their horses everyday, before and after they go out on patrol.

The horses “deserve that,” said Nichols. “They do a job for us and carry us around all day and put up with the stress of this job. That’s what keeps them healthy.”

The horses are a big reason why the Mounted Unit is such a vital part of the Dallas Police Department and making a huge difference in preventing high crime trends.

They create a sort-of liaison between law enforcement and the community. Depending on the neighborhood, people do not normally like to talk to police officers in squad cars because of the perception or inclinations of them talking to the police.

Senior Corporal Kurt Carroll said that horses make their jobs easier and make the officersmore approachable. There are instances where people will bring their kids out to pet the horses and at the same time tell the officers about suspicious activity happening in their neighborhoods. Those tips may help the police fight crime, he said

Everyday officers patrol different neighborhoods depending on where the crime trends are. Typically they are patrolling neighborhoods with the highest crime.

The Mounted Unit operates differently than other units in the police department.

“Most crime fighting entities are judged by how many arrests they have made, our primary function is the prevention of crime, and that is a hard number to quantify,” said Senior Corporal James Lewis. “So what we try to show is how crime trends take a big dive when we get there and continue to maintain that downward trend, at least for a while, once we leave.”

On average the mounted officers spend four hours a day patrolling in pairs. If the beat they are covering is too far to walk, the officers trailer the horses and drive to the area.

Not only is this a partnership between two officers, but it is also a partnership between the rider and the horse. It is a dedication beyond just police work, but it is the outside caring for the animals that really builds those relationships in the Mounted Unit.

Nichols said there are no days off. On Saturday and Sunday the officers must go to the barn to feed and water the horses because they are the only ones to take care of them.

“It’s hot, it’s cold, its hard work, it’s physical work. We clean the barn, we feed the horses, we maintain our trucks, our saddles, all of our gear,” said Nichols. “It is a great job, but you have to want it.”

Religious Refugee Makes a Difference

December 13, 2010 by · 8 Comments 

By Ariana Garza

Iranian-born Sina Sabet is a religious refugee who spends most of his week trying to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth from around Dallas County.

Sabet, 20, is a freshman at Richland College and is studying to be a middle school teacher. In less than four months this year, he implemented 13 junior youth groups in Dallas County as part of a worldwide Baha’i Faith spiritual empowerment initiative. His goal is to establish 20 groups by April 2011 and he is corresponding with Dallas police and Dallas Independent School District faculty and staff to do so.

Sabet’s junior youth groups are geared toward helping young people from any socioeconomic, cultural or religious background learn how to be comfortable in their own skin and give back to their community. The Baha’i, non-profit, Dallas-based Martha Root Training Institute sponsors the groups, which are restricted to 12 to 15-year-olds. As determined by the Baha’i Faith, this age group is the most susceptible to mental and ethical change.

The Baha’i Faith was founded in Iran in 1844 and, even though it preaches a message of world peace, it has been persecuted in Iran ever since. Sabet fled Iran in 2005 at the age of 15.

In a group reaching out to eight youth among the Villas of Bent Trails, Covington Pointe Apartments and Bent Tree Forest Condominiums, the topics of bullies, gangs, therapy, and family issues were up for discussion one night recently. Eleven-year-old Israel Lopez discussed his problems with bullies at school. Lopez said that his classmates often tease him for being “too short.” Maria Prado, 14, the oldest of the group, was quick to offer advice.

“It doesn’t matter what height you are, it doesn’t matter how you look, it doesn’t matter what shoes you’re going to wear tomorrow,” Prado said. ”What’s important is your personality and what’s in your heart.”

While none of the group that Lopez and Prado is involved with comprise gang-related members, some of the other groups that Sabet works with do.

Even though Sabet implemented the groups, he does not manage each neighborhood group himself. Sabet functions as a program coordinator for all 13 groups, but doubles as an “animator,” who guides discussion topics and ensures that the youth stay on track, in two neighborhoods. Including Sabet, there are 10 animators that service the 13 groups. Groups always meet within one of the participating members’ apartment complexes.

During each session, the group starts out with a prayer, from any religion, which is sometimes followed by a Baha’i prayer. Although the program is Baha’i-inspired, neither its members nor its coordinators seek to proselytize. Participants remind each other of their self-made pact: A list of standards that they aspire to live up to during their time together. The pact typically consists of a promise to abstain from backbiting and gossiping. Members of the group are also encouraged to discuss what is on their mind.

For all of her advice at the recent meeting, Prado still struggled with the concept of racism. Prado said that she does not understand why different ethnic groups at school discriminate against one another.

But she is sure of one thing: “When I grow up, I want to be a leader,” Prado said.

After highly sensitive, personal stories were shared and a few tears were shed, the group remained confident in each other and in their ability to confide in one another.

Maria and her sister, Nayeli, 13, who live in the Villas of Bent Trails, always look forward to participating in the program, even after a long day at school.

“It’s the best thing that’s happened to me,” Nayeli said. “My life has changed.”

Even though the group in her neighborhood has only been together for a couple of weeks, Nayeli said she feels like it has already made her a better person. Before she joined the group, she did not talk to anybody about her problems.

“I would just stay quiet, go somewhere nobody could see me, and cry,” Nayeli said.

Although Sabet is making strides with the junior youth spiritual empowerment groups, he cannot forget his past.

When Sabet fled Iran, he and his family traveled by train to Turkey and sought aid from the United Nations office in Ankara. After a series of interviews, the U.N. decided to send Sabet and his family to the United States, which was already accepting Baha’i refugees.

Sabet was not fluent in English when he and his family arrived in New York City on Sept. 8, 2006. The next day, Sabet and his family flew to Dallas to take a shot at the American dream and, for the first time, experience religious freedom.

After his culture shock subsided, Sabet eventually got involved with soccer, the yearbook, track and field, cross country and student government at Emmet J. Conrad High School—he even ran for junior class president.

“I was so eager to use these different opportunities,” Sabet said. “I was on fire.”

After a year and a half at Emmet J. Conrad High School, Sabet transferred to Plano West High School.

Sabet is currently studying to be a middle school teacher at Richland College—an opportunity that would not be available to him if he had stayed in Iran. Sabet said that members of the Baha’i Faith were not permitted to enroll in any form of higher education past high school. Even today, Baha’is cannot enroll in colleges or universities in Iran.

Sabet said that his non-Baha’i, Iranian classmates would tease him and ask him why he even bothered coming to class since he knew that he could not continue his education after high school.

“You grew up knowing that you were being discriminated against,” Sabet said.

Sabet said that the majority of Iranian citizens, even his teachers, were brainwashed against the Baha’is and could not believe that he was a Baha’i when he told them.

Sabet’s program has created a safe haven for young teens like Nayeli.

The Prado sisters are always on the lookout for new recruits and were successful in recruiting their friend, Cody Pleasants. Maria Prado and Pleasants share the same bus stop and, even though Pleasants is new to the Dallas area, he immediately got involved.

“We just moved here and I think it’s awesome he has people to hang out with,” said Robin Bridges, Pleasants’s mother.

The program places a high value on transparency with participants’ parents and guardians. Each participant must have adult consent to participate in the program and, after each session, program animators, like Sabet, escort the teens to their doors.

After the discussion session, the teens gear up for activities, which typically range from sports to problem solving games and icebreakers. After a few activities, the class sits down to their reading material, “Breezes of Confirmation,” published by Development Learning Press.

Employing a series of short stories and short answer questions, the workbook is designed to help junior youth develop a sense of sound moral judgment and function as a guide for its readers, who are making the transition from childhood to adolescence.

Over the course of the program, the group is expected to devise a community service initiative specific to their community. The program focuses on creating leadership among members by allowing them to choose their service initiatives.

While Sabet is able to promote his Baha’i-based junior youth spiritual empowerment groups here in Dallas, his first cousin, who stayed in Iran, was not as fortunate. Raha Sabet was arrested in 2006 for putting together a similar group in the Iranian village known as “Mehdi Abad,” which is now a neighborhood in Shiraz.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the persecution of Iranian Baha’is occurred more frequently and became systematic. Even though Raha’s group became integrated with a local non-governmental organization and had the support of a number of Muslim locals, the Iranian government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad eventually caught wind of the group and arrested everyone involved. After the arrests, the government decided to release the Muslim participants, but detain the Baha’is.

Raha and two other Baha’is were sentenced to four years in prison on false accusations of proselytizing. The 51 Baha’i youth involved were threatened with one year in prison, if they continued to participate in the program, and a compulsory three-year Islamic education class.

During solitary confinement, Raha developed ovarian cysts and now must be taken to the hospital for treatment on a regular basis. Raha should be released in one year.

SIDEBAR

The Baha’i Faith is an independent world religion that was founded in Iran by Baha’u’allah in 1844. The Faith preaches a message of the oneness of mankind: This message comprises the Faith’s goal of racial unity, equality of men and women and, ultimately, a universal civilization.

In addition to world unity, the Baha’i Faith preaches progressive revelation. Progressive revelation, as defined by the Baha’is, is a concept that incorporates the founders of each of the major world religions. Baha’is believe that each of the divine messengers (i.e. Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Baha’u’allah ) is part of a larger whole, whose common purpose, overtime, is to promote spiritual and moral maturity among the human race.

Common themes of the Baha’i Faith are: the abandonment of all forms of prejudice, equality of men and women, recognition of the unity and relativity of religious truth, the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth, universal education, independent search for truth and the recognition that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

There are approximately five million Baha’is worldwide.

The persecution of the Baha’i Faith can be traced back to its origins. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the persecution of the Baha’is intensified and became systematic. Persecution came in many forms: denial of education, destruction of graves and holy sites, imprisonment and even martyrdom.

The Iranian Baha’i community comprises the largest minority religion in Iran. The fundamentalist Muslims in Iran, and in other Middle Eastern countries, have labeled the Baha’i Faith as heretical, and therefore justify the persecution of the Faith.

The Faith’s founder, Baha’u’allah, suffered a series of imprisonments and was ultimately exiled to what He called “The Most Great Prison,” a prison in Akka, Israel. The grounds of his imprisonment were for preaching a new religion.

In recent years, the Iranian government arrested seven Baha’is, two women and five men, known as the “Yaran” (Friends). The Yaran were arrested in 2008 on accusations of espionage and collaboration with Israel. Baha’i representatives denied the charges. Prior to their arrest, the Yaran were prominent, individual Baha’is that were well known within the Iranian community for their professional lives and their service to the community.

Nobel laureate, Shirn Ebadi, decided to represent the Yaran in court. The Iranian government, however, denied the Yaran of due process. Ebadi reportedly fled Iran for fear of arrest. After two years in Evin Prison, and numerous, groundless delayed trials, the Yaran finally received their sentence. The Yaran were initially each sentenced to 20 years in prison; however, the sentence was later reduced to 10 years.

American journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested in Iran in January 2009. Saberi was charged with espionage, but she denied the charges. During her imprisonment in Evin Prison, Saberi met the two female members of the Yaran. Saberi was released on May 11, 2009 and is now outspoken against the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.

The Daily Update: Thursday, Sept. 16

September 16, 2010 by · Comments Off 

The Daily Update: Thursday, Sept. 16 from SMUDailyMustang.com on Vimeo.

On today’s Daily Update find out about what new is being done to the oil spill. Also find out about the controversial trip the Pope is making to the UK, Edwin Newman dies, and more

VIDEO: Mustang Minute, Tuesday March 16

March 16, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Read more

VIDEO: Mustang Minute, Monday March 15

March 15, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Read more

Big D Blog: Home of Dallas Police Officer Gets a Makeover

October 18, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Jaimie Siegle

Does anyone actually watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?

I never did until last night, when the ABC TV show aired the extreme makeover a former Dallas police officer’s home. SWAT team leader Carlton Marshall, who was injured on the job and lost the ability to walk, and his family were grateful for their brand new home. Their previous home was in seriously bad condition, and with help that included the SWAT team and country singer Trace Adkins, Carlton and Susan Marshall (and their adorable little kids) gained the possibility to return to a more normal life.

Now, said Marshall, it will be easier for him to tuck his kids into bed at night.

Not gonna lie; I got a little misty-eyed toward the end. I’m not usually a sucker for shows like these, but maybe this one just hit a bit close to home … literally. And I think the episode makes me want to give a really big “thanks” to all the Dallas civil servants out there.

Find a preview and more information on the Marshall family and the episode here. The full episode will be available to watch on the ABC Web site soon.