Mounted Patrol to help control rowdy crowds

By Kristin Martin

Anywhere in Kentucky at any time, one can always find a basketball fan or a horse.

This weekend you might find both together in streets of downtown Lexington during celebrations after the NCAA Tournament games.

Lexington police’s Mounted Patrol Unit will be staged at a location near campus and be prepared to respond to any problems that might occur if the crowds in the street get too rowdy following a UK win or loss.

Mounted officer Dan Edge said fans know that celebrating in the streets is acceptable, but sometimes they want to do the forbidden things — like burn couches — to celebrate.

He said his suspicions were already rising when he saw a truck filled with mattresses drive by the other day.

“It’s just an excuse to do something bad,” he said. “When it gets a little crazy, they’re going to say we need to move the people away from the area … they’ll call the horses in.”

Edge said the horses are great for crowd control because one mounted officer can move the same number of people that would require 10 officers on foot to move. The horses can turn sideways and create a wall to steer the crowd from the streets back to the sidewalks.

Edge said he sits about 9 feet high on his horse Zeus and can see over crowds.

Sgt. Ellen Sam from the unit said the police want people to have fun but be safe.

“If there’s a big commotion going on, they can start helping pick out the people who are causing or instigating the problem — help isolate them so those people can be removed and the rest of the crowd can go back and have a good time,” she said.

The mounted officers aren’t there just to control crowds but are there to save them, too.

Sam said a couple years ago people were expecting a win during the NCAA Tournament. Fans were celebrating on the streets near campus when someone passed out in the middle of the crowd.

Police cruisers couldn’t get to the person, she said, and an officer on foot wouldn’t have been able to get there quickly.

The mounted officer could see where to go and led medical personnel to the person who was in need of help.

Even if crowds can’t hear what an officer is saying, they see the officer on the horse motioning them to move and the crowd clears out quicker, Sam said.

“People don’t want to get stepped on, nor do we want to step on them,” Sam said. “It’s a more effective way to ask people to move and to comply to a direction without having to resort to any type of force or anything where potentially people or officers could get hurt.”

Beyond the crowds

The mounted unit began in 1982 after an idea circulated of an officer riding a horse during a Fourth of July parade downtown.

Sam said Robert Maxwell had a horse and let an officer named George Taylor use it for the parade.

It was such a hit with the public that it continued, she said.

Maxwell would drive downtown each day to leave a Quarter Horse named Buck for Taylor to ride, then would pick Buck up at the end of the day, she said.

The unit doesn’t just get involved with crowds or special events. The mounted officers, whose duties aren’t any different from officers in cruisers, ride around patrolling downtown roads daily.

Currently, the unit has four officers, a sergeant and a civilian who takes care of the unit’s barn and property on West Sixth Street.

Sam said people who live downtown are more familiar with the mounted police than others might be.

“They know the police are there because they hear the footfalls of the horse,” she said. “It makes them feel safer.”

Sam said people often feel intimidated approaching an officer in a cruiser, but they often approach the mounted officers because they want to pet the horses and chat with officers. Sometimes that makes them feel comfortable enough to tell the officers about any crime that might be happening in the area.

“It’s a good way to break some of the bonds of fear between police and the people,” Sam said.

Edge agreed that horses are a good public relations tool.

“It’s a different angle for law enforcement to use to talk to the community who may be a little intimidated by you or not care for you,” he said.

From cruiser to cowboy

Edge has been a police officer for 26 years and a mounted officer for 14 years.

He said he loved seeing an officer in uniform riding down Main Street for the first time. So when he was asked if he was interested in becoming a mounted officer, he was willing to do it.

He said he didn’t know which end of the horse was dangerous and had no experience with horses before his 10 weeks of training.

Going from the police cruiser to horseback was a big change for him.

“Learning a new thing and being a horse person is whole new job,” he said.

It took a little while for him to get comfortable around horses, but by the end of his training, he was.

He actually trained his 17-year-old white Percheron-Friesian to be a police horse — to handle the loud city life.

Edge said the bond he has developed during the 14 years with his horse is the best part of being a mounted officer.

All the officers build a relationship with their horses, Sam said.

She also said the officers bathe and groom their horses each morning before they go patrol the streets.