Last Sunday, the Milwaukee Police Department opened up the 2nd Police District headquarters on the South Side for an open house. The force brought out all their toys, including a well-appointed police motorcycle and a large prisoner transport van.
Those toys, though, took a back seat when two of the largest officers on the force arrived, Prince and Jill.
Combined, Prince and Jill weigh roughly 4,000 pounds. They are two weighty, equine members of the force’s mounted unit.
As officers John Pederson and Steve White sat on the big steeds in the 2nd District parking lot, they were surrounded by a sea of little children and their parents. The children peppered the mounted cops with questions.
“Does he live at your house with you?” asked one little girl as she rubbed Jill’s flank.
“Jill is a girl,” officer Pederson pointed out. “She doesn’t come home with me, she lives at a stable.”
“Oh,” the little girl said and then, with a smile, looked up to repeat what she’d just learned. “Jill is a girl,” she said authoritatively.
Charlotte Rodriguez, a middle-aged south side resident was no less intrigued with the horses than the children.
“It’s a positive for the city,” she said as big Prince towered above her. “I think it’s great and I think the children love it too.”
At a time when police nationwide find themselves struggling to connect with the communities they serve, cops say the mounted unit can be a godsend. Cops on horseback are a public relations windfall.
“We are probably the biggest public relations tool the police department has,” said Sgt. Fred Tice, the commander of the mounted unit.
Still, the value of police horses isn’t limited to public relations. There are significant strategic advantages.
Case in point: On June 19th, 2007 when Milwaukee’s streets deteriorated into bedlam on the heels on the annual Juneteenth celebration, the mounted unit was used for crowd control. Chopper 4 captured live pictures of the team cantering onto the scene to rescue a man who was being beaten mercilessly by a mob. Like the cavalry of a bygone era, the cops moved in quickly, scattering the mob.
“Many of our officers have made felony arrests up on a horse,” said Mounted Officer Steve White with a Texas drawl as he rode comfortably atop Prince. “We respond to shots fired, subjects with guns. We do everything an officer does in a squad car. We just do it on a horse. And we could do it a lot better and a lot more if we had more.”
Right now, the Milwaukee Police Mounted Unit is nine horses strong. The steeds are stabled in Caledonia and must be trailered into the city to work.
Next spring, though, the department hopes to break ground on a new south side equestrian facility. The planned Lincoln Avenue stables would be more than a home for the horses. The goal is to launch outreach programs for the public schools. The Wisconsin Preservation Fund is spearheading fundraising for the roughly five million dollar facility.
The new facility could be open as soon as next fall.