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.”