By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
The eight officers of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Mounted Patrol have started spring training to get ready for their first big event of the calendar year — the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The IMPD Mounted Patrol is also serving as an advisory body of sorts for the Kokomo Police Department’s fledgling horse division, which is set to begin operations this summer.
“We have to go out when the weather gets halfway bearable and work in the round pen, burning off some of their energy,” Kelly said of the spring prep period. “It helps the horse reestablish some respect for you.”
The Indianapolis officers have one big advantage over their Kokomo counterparts, in that all eight officers are permanently assigned to the Mounted Patrol. Each officer is assigned their own horse, and training continues more or less year round, Kelly said.
Of course, Indianapolis is a city of more than 700,000 people, with a police budget to match. That may be why it’s the only city in the state with a full-time mounted patrol division.
During the dead of winter, some of the IMPD Mounted Patrol officers do regular patrols in squad cars, but they still have time to train. That year-round training, which includes work on an obstacle course and extensive work to desensitize the horses, is essential to the effectiveness of the patrol, Kelly said.
“[Part-time patrols] can still be done, as long as you still allot the officers some training time each week, like maybe eight hours a week,” Kelly said. “The horses lose some of their responsiveness if it’s not kept up. They’re not like a motorcycle, where you can hop on anytime and ride off. If you don’t work with them, they get stubborn and have a lack of respect. The next thing you know, someone is getting hurt.”
The Kokomo department is looking to rent horses for the time being, and Kelly said that plan could work as long as the horses get regular training at the stable where they’re kept.
The horses are especially effective for crowd control, allowing officers a high vantage point to spot potential or actual trouble, as well as serving as an effective means of dispersing unruly crowds. As Kelly says, no one wants to be stepped on by a 1,700 pound animal.
Officers are also responsible for cleaning up after their horse if it leaves manure on a public sidewalk or in a public area. If the horse eliminates in the street, the officers leave it for the rain to wash away, Kelly said.
Major Jim Calabro, who is heading up the Kokomo mounted patrol, consulted with Kelly recently but couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Mayor Greg Goodnight spoke about the new program earlier in the week.
“We reviewed mounted patrol units in other communities and found them to be an effective resource to support patrol officers,” Goodnight said. “I believe they will be a great asset for increasing the interaction between police and citizens.”
The city is looking for individuals who would be willing to rent a horse or horses for the program. Anyone who would like to have their horses considered for this program is invited to contact Calabro at 456-7269.
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org