UNITED STATES PARK POLICE
HORSE MOUNTED UNIT
The United States Park Police Horse Mounted Unit is one of the oldest established police equestrian units in the United States. Established in 1934 with one horse that was rented from a local stable. However, as the value of the mounted unit was proven, it was expanded to an operational strength that patrols and provides protection in the Washington Metropolitan Area as well as New York and San Francisco.
The first use of horses by the Park Police followed the general trial and error method that prevailed throughout much of police work in those days. Rock Creek Park, a 1900-acre tract of heavily wooded terrain lying in the heart of Washington, D.C. is interspersed with equestrian trails that required special policing methods for which the horse is ideally suited. Open park areas with open spaces, picnic areas, ball fields and other activities were soon found to be places where horses could patrol more effectively than foot officers or motorized vehicle. Because of this, stables were erected and new horse mounted beats were established.
The Nation's Capitol hosts many civic functions each year. Some of them are annual events and some have a national and international character, such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the Christmas Pageant of Peace and the Presidential Inauguration. During the 1960's and the 1970's, the horses, in addition to being an attractive unit for display in parades, were found to be highly effective in crowd and traffic management at these functions. The horses were properly trained and conditioned to maneuver in crowds of people and through heavily traveled roadways so as not to endanger the public, themselves, or other riders.
The era of the 1960's brought millions of peaceful demonstrators to Washington, D.C. Then in the early 1970's, a new dimension arose - large scale violent demonstration. Wanton destruction of property and attacks on other persons with opposing views became the rule rather than the exception. The Mounted Police Officers were put to new tests. After each demonstration, critiques were held, new methods of training were developed, new equipment was evaluated and new ways of managing and dispersing crowds were developed. A new emphasis was placed on developing training for the mounted police office, the U. S. Park Police Mounted Officer. The U. S. Park Police Mounted training program has evolved into one of the most well known and respected programs worldwide. The current 400-hour curriculum is structured as if the student's first contact with the horse was when they walked into the U. S. Park Police training facility. Graduates are capable of not only providing effective horse mounted patrol, but can manage their own police patrol program. The U. S. Park Police Horse Mounted Training Staff receives numerous requests from outside agencies to provide them with training. This agency has assisted the U. S. Army, U. S. Secret Service as well as police departments from Maryland, New York, West Virginia, South Caroline Kentucky, Colorado, New Mexico and many others. Instructors are regularly requested to provide training at police seminars as mounted colloquiums held throughout the United States. The United States Park Police Horse Mounted Unit offer the 400-hour Remount training Free of charge to outside Law Enforcement agencies.
By being actively engaged in virtually all major demonstrations in the Washington Metropolitan Area, the U. S. Park Police Horse Mounted Unit has gained valuable knowledge and expertise in managing crowds and quelling disturbances with little or no serious injuries to the demonstrators, spectators, horse or rider. The Unit's reputation and expertise lead to a special invitation to provide 25 Horse Mounted Officers to patrol Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia. Sadly, it took a tragedy to show what the unit could do in a very demanding situation. A Unit Award for Excellence of Service from the Secretary of the Interior showed the quality of their work. "Naming each officer involved, Secretary Babbitt noted how, after the pipe bomb exploded and killed two people, the Park Police officers immediately moved an estimated 60,000 people outside the park perimeter." The officers did so while of dozens of injured people were given medical attention. He believed crowd control of this type would have been impossible without the horse-mounted patrol. The Secretary also said the officers "clearly proved to be the most effective public relations unit and the most favorable method of crowd control at the games". The Unit also travels to Camp David at the request of the U. S. Secret Service and provides horses for the President and the first family. The unit continues to train for Civil Disturbances and was instrumental in handling the large crowds during the 200 - Millennium Celebration and most recently, the World Bank International Monetary Funds demonstration here in Washington, April 16 and 17, 2000. In July 2000, the Horse Mounted Unit traveled to the Republican National Convention to provide Law Enforcement services at Independence National Historic Park. This was at the request of the National Park Service and part of a staged response plan for significant protests and civil disobedience at Independence National Park.
What do these horses mean to United States Parks?
Experts say a horse in a crowd is worth fifteen or twenty foot patrol officers. People look up to the officer on a horse and it's a powerful image. If a crowd starts to get out of hand, and the officer tells someone to stand back or move away, the individuals are less likely to resist or talk back to the horse mounted officer. A lone officer on foot may have to resort to force to achieve the same result. The height advantage also work well in routine patrol because it lets the officer see pickpockets, car busters and other criminals that an officer on foot would miss in a crowd. The animal's size works well in another way. People, who need a police officer or simply want to feel safe, can see an officer horseback a block away. The "clip-clop" of the approaching horse hooves, signals to the citizens that help is on the way.
Any questions about the Horse Mounted Unit or requests for training may be directed to Sergeant Robert Hartnett, Edgewater Stables (202) 426-6853.