MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis police officer Erica White didn’t grow up riding horses like some of her colleagues, but that didn’t stop her from applying to be part of the department’s mounted patrol unit.
White is one of three officers who recently graduated after 120 hours of training and will be a part of the unit that has now grown to 9 mounted officers.
“I wanted to be part of a unit that really was able to show the city of Memphis what the police department has to offer,” said White, a 16-year veteran with the department. “It is a lot of hard work and is completely different than what I was doing in the squad car.”
Across the country, officers on horseback are good public relations for departments at a time when many are struggling to connect with the community.
The cops and their steeds can be seen at more than 100 community events in Memphis including at schools to parades
“It is good public relations,” said Sgt. Robert Hence, one of the trainers with the unit. “It is just good to have a unit that kids can come up and see that officers are just more than a badge, a shield and in a squad car.”
But the unit is also used strategically during search and rescue and crowd control like on Beale Street during summer weekends.
“Being on horseback gives you a great vantage point because you can really see. That is one reason we use them on Beale Street because you can see what is going on a great distance. We are 10 to 11 feet high on our horses,” said Lt. Felipe Boyce who has been riding with the unit since 2011.
Currently, Memphis’ unit is 10 horses strong. The mounts as the officers call their horses have names like Five-0, Twister and Jude, who was named by the children at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. They are all males because the officers said the geldings have an easier temperament in crowds and during events where there might be loud noises like gunfire or crowd noise.
The horses are stabled at a barn the city built on Pear Avenue that includes an obstacle course for training and fields for the horses to graze and play when they are off-duty.
“We have had several homes over the years,” said Major William Freed, who is the commander over the unit. “We have been around a long time with the department.”
Memphis’ mounted patrol has patrolled city streets since 1911 when the unit started.
Around 1962 the unit was disbanded, but came back around 1983. In the early 2000s the unit was disbanded again, but in 2011 it was restarted.
The officers who graduated on June 16 are first new recruits to join the unit since 2012.
Officer Ozell Toles is one of the new recruits that now include six officers, a sergeant, a lieutenant and a major.
“One reason I really wanted to join the unit is because I have always been fascinated by horses since growing up around them as a kid,” said Toles, a 17-year veteran with the department. “Once I got my time in the car and I saw the bid come up, I said that’s where I want to be.”
Toles has been paired with Officer Thumper, a 15-year-old horse whose favorite treat is peppermint candy.
“We’ve been together two weeks and are still getting to know each other, but I think it is going to be a good partnership,” Toles said. “He is a hardworking officer.”
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com