Mounties come to the University

Police on horseback are good for safety, order and community relations.

This spring, University students might see police officers mounted on horses rather than sitting in squad cars. The University Police Department struck a deal with the Minneapolis Park Police Department to use four of its mounted patrol horses during nonsummer months. The horses stand to be a very effective addition to the force, and the deal benefits all involved.

Mounted patrols are common in urban areas and give officers several advantages over those on foot or in squad cars. Officers on horseback are more approachable than those in cars, and police horses are generally well-mannered when approached. Horses are useful from a vantage perspective as well – officers are higher up than people and can spot problems or potential problems more easily.

Horses are most useful in crowd control situations. Police horses are trained not to react to loud noises, sudden movements and other stimuli, and they can be intimidating to crowds. They are extremely effective at moving groups of people, which is an important factor in controlling disturbances, such as riots.

While it is impossible to say for sure whether a mounted force would have lessened the damage done during the Dinkytown riots, mounted officers can be as effective as several officers on foot, and hopefully the horses will be used to prevent, or at least control, these unfortunate situations in the future.

The St. Paul Police Department had to cut its mounted patrol in half because of budget cuts; hopefully, the University’s partnership with Minneapolis will prevent downsizing Minnesota’s police horse population even more. The horses the University will use will now get more exercise – staying fitter and more able to do their jobs – as a result of the partnership.

At a large urban university with an unfortunate history of crowd problems, the mounted patrol can only benefit the community. Public response to mounted patrols is usually positive; citizens like the horses and the horses offer flexibility that officers in cars and on foot do not. It should be an addition to the police force that is well worth the cost.