The NYPD’s Mounted Unit has patrolled the streets of New York since 1871, long before police cars became readily available to officers. It may not be as large as it was in the past, but the unit persists today, guarding the five boroughs with fifty-five “10-foot tall officers.” Although it may seem strange and even unwise for live horses to trot about today’s trafficked city streets, the Mounted Unit still serves to ensure the safety of New Yorkers in some very specific ways:

The aim of New York’s Mounted Unit is defined by five pillars: traffic control, crowd control, counter-terrorism, prevention of street crime, and community relations. That said, the main advantage of a mounted officer compared to a standing one is visibility. The added height supplied by the horses provides officers with a much wider range of vision, and in turn, easier recognition to those in need of help. Mounted officers are able to spot crime at far distances, and civilians are able to spot mounted officers at far distances as well.

NYPD Mounted Unit Officer Circa 1930. Image via Wikimedia Commons

This added perception helps to deter crime and allows officers to tend to it more readily. The NYPD also explains that mounted officers are able to navigate areas of the city inaccessible to squad cars, like pedestrian plazas or narrow alleyways. Aside from their duties in monitoring the city, the mounted officers have a sort of calming effect on people. Pedestrians often approach the officers, who seem more approachable, to inquire about the names and ages of the horses, and to pet them. In this way, the mounted unit also works in community relations: they help keep the peace while simultaneously patrolling the streets.

The selection and training process (for both officer and horse) is extensive. Most horses for the mounted unit are bought from Amish Country in Pennsylvania before they are transferred to the training facility in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. After a few weeks of training, the horses are sent to duty with an officer to decide whether or not they can handle the chaotic streets of New York. If a horse is too skittish, he or she will be sent back. If not, they will stay paired with their officer unless they are sick or injured.

Surprisingly, officers don’t need any prior riding experience to qualify for New York’s Mounted Unit. Any officer who has been with the NYPD for at least three years is eligible to apply. The officers chosen to join the unit train 5-6 hours over the course of about six months, and are then sent out into the field with their designated four-legged companion. Overall, members of the NYPD have claimed that the patrol of one mounted officer is as effective as 10 on foot. It seems New York’s mounted unit has a bright and long future ahead.
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