Have you ever seen a “ten-foot tall cop?” You have if you’ve ever seen a mounted police officer!
There are plenty of them patrolling the busy streets of New York City. As of 2011, the New York City Police Department’s mounted unit has 79 police officers and 60 horses, all specially trained to work in the city.
Before cars became ubiquitous on the city’s streets early in the twentieth century, the NYPD had approximately 800 horses on staff! But are police horses still important in the twenty-first century? The NYPD certainly thinks so. Police officers on horseback are much more effective than officers on foot when dealing with crowds, as they can see over large groups of people. They are also much more visible, which reduces crime. A police officer on a horse can weave through busy traffic, go the wrong way on a one-way street, and can cover long distances in search and rescue operations.
Horses are naturally very skittish—to most, a plastic bag blowing in the wind is terrifying—so all NYPD horses go through extensive training at school. There, horses become used to the unexpected sights and sounds they might encounter on the job, such as hissing flares, plastic tarps, even smoke bombs. Police officers also learn how to ride and care for their assigned horse at the school, which is located in Pelham Bay Park. Not every horse passes the final test, though. For every horse accepted into the Police Department, five others are turned down.
So how much does it cost the city to employ these four-legged cops? Each horse costs $4,000, much less than a new car. Their food and bedding costs $10 a day, much less than a tank of gas. The NYPD has even developed a custom grain for the horses to eat that is packed with nutrients and minerals the horses need to stay strong and alert.
In 2011, a brand new stable opened along the Hudson River in Chelsea for some very lucky mounted unit horses. The facility includes a heated training ring, spacious stalls, and a custom horse shower.
To read more about the NYPD mounted unit, I recommend the picture book Finnegan and Fox: The Ten Foot Cop by Helen L. Wilbur and John Manders, this week’s featured Little New-Yorkers story.
I’ve been learning a lot about the NYPD mounted unit while preparing to read Finnegan and Fox at Little New-Yorkers, so imagine my excitement when I left for my lunch break yesterday and saw a mounted police officer on 76th Street! I told him I was teaching children about mounted police officers and he let me pet his horse. Trooper. I got to feed Trooper a carrot and pose for a photo. He even gave me official NYPD mounted police badges to show the kids. My interaction with the officer made me realize another important reason for the mounted unit’s existence: public relations. It gives everyday people, especially children, a reason to chat with a police officer. Who doesn’t want to pet a pretty horsey?
Jacobs, Andrew. (2006, April 18). A New Crime Fighter, for $10 in Hay and Oats. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com