University police saddle up for mounted patrol

University police would share the Minneapolis park police’s horses.

Matthew Gruchow

The University Police Department will get its first horse-mounted patrol and could have officers riding this spring, according to the Minneapolis Park Police Department.

Two University officers are being trained to handle the horses, said University police Lt. Troy Buhta. The mounted patrol will be used for crowd control and parades. It will give officers another way to interact with the public, he said.

“People are more apt to come up and speak to an officer on a horse, and it’s a good conversation piece,” Buhta said. “It’s less threatening than, say, a squad car.”

University police would pay approximately $9,600 a year for use of the horses, Buhta said.

The money will come directly from the University police budget, he said.

“We thought, ‘What a better time to try it when we’re not buying all the tack and saddles and things for the horses,’ ” Buhta said.

Sgt. Brian Rodgers, the supervisor in charge of the park police’s mounted patrol, said the Minneapolis park police have four horses that are used primarily in the summer.

The University would use the horses the rest of the year, sharing in the cost of stabling them, Rodgers said.

“It helps us, because the horses aren’t used in the spring or fall at all,” Rodgers said. “And it’s good for the horses, because it keeps them exercised a lot.”

Buhta said the deal allows the University to determine whether the program is a good fit for the campus.

“It’s really a good way to start into a program when you’re trying to see if the program will work for your department,” Buhta said.

The public has been receptive to the idea of a mounted patrol, he said.

“Everywhere I’ve been to meetings, people have been really excited about it and can’t wait to see it,” Buhta said.

A mounted unit could do the work of several officers during a major disturbance, he said.

“If we have any big disturbances, the horses will be doing the work of six officers to move a crowd,” Buhta said. “Also, in that situation, they do sit up higher, so they can see more into a large-crowd disturbance, which is good.”

The Minneapolis Park Police Department Mounted Patrol Unit was created in 1996, according to the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s Web site.

The St. Paul Mounted Police Unit began in 1995 but made cuts to its mounted patrol because of budget constraints.

St. Paul police now have four horses, down from eight, said Officer Paul Schnell, a St. Paul police spokesman.

The department has two officers assigned to the mounted patrol, which is used all year, he said.

Mounted patrols are an important addition to police departments, Schnell said.

“It is a tool that law enforcement agencies want to have in their tool belt, especially in an urban environment,” Schnell said.

Mounted patrols offer an excellent way to do community outreach. The patrols offer the same services as officers in cars, Schnell said.

“It is a way for our officers to have direct human contact with people who live, work or visit those areas on a regular basis,” he said.

First-year student Aaron Swant said a mounted patrol was a good idea, enabling officers to go where squad cars can’t.

“I think it’ll increase officer presence and visibility on campus,” Swant said.

Students will find a horse patrol less intimidating than officers in patrol cars, he said.