Bucking the Trend, Philadelphia Police Department Bets on Horses
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Bucking the Trend,
Philadelphia Police Department Bets on Horses
by Suzanne Bush - March 2011

Mounted police patrols have been part of law enforcement throughout the United States since the 19th Century-in cities and in hard-to-access areas like deserts and mountains. Once upon a time the horse was the go-to vehicle in urban settings for crime fighting and crowd control. But times have changed, and the last vestiges of mounted patrols are disappearing from cities large and small. The number of American cities that still have mounted patrols is shrinking along with the revenue streams needed to maintain the equipment and care for the horses.

Philadelphia had a mounted police unit until budget cuts in 2004 forced the unit to disband. The horses were sold, along with the vans used to transport them and the saddles, bridles and other equipment. When Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey arrived in Philadelphia in early 2008, he discovered that the community missed the city's mounted patrol, and he made a commitment to bring the horses back.

It was easier said than done. The City of Philadelphia is suffering from the same budget woes as cities like Newark, NJ and Baltimore, MD. Newark has recently dismantled their mounted patrol, and they've even offered four of their horses to Philadelphia. Baltimore is struggling with funding for their mounted police.

Lieutenant Ray Evers says that the four horses from Newark will form the core of the new unit, which will eventually include 24 horses and 22 officers. While there's no place to stable these horses yet, there is no shortage of optimism on the part of the people charged with reconstituting the mounted unit and raising the money to sustain it until the cost can be incorporated into the City's budget.

Several Pots Boiling
Lieutenant Dan McCann is the Commanding Officer of the mounted unit, and he has been busy on several fronts. "It's like I have a couple of pots boiling on the stove," he says. The City is building a stable for the mounted unit in West Fairmount Park, but it won't be finished until the spring of 2012. "I've been dealing with the property, searching for temporary stabling, purchase and procurement (of equipment), grants, finding trainers, farriers, etc." McCann has selected the veterinarian, Dr. Dale Schilling of Ambler. As for the temporary stable, McCann was optimistic that he would have it settled before the end of February.

McCann had been part of the mounted unit before, although his stint on horseback was fairly brief. "I went to the unit in 2003, and when I got there I wondered why I didn't do it 20 years ago." Commissioner Ramsey asked him if he would be interested in heading the new unit. "I hardly had to think about it," he says, even though he was on the verge of retiring.

He says he's planning to have 12 horses in the unit the first year, and by the middle of the summer he hopes to have a core of six horses and riders. "We've identified 22 officers who would like to start the training, and we sent them up to an introductory training by the Pennsylvania State Police." At that training, the officers were evaluated by the Pennsylvania State Police, and all of them passed.

What a Difference a Horse Makes!
Maureen Rush recalls a night when she believes Philadelphia's mounted police literally rode to the rescue and defused a volatile situation. "This one particular evening there was an uprising at 5th and Indiana," she says. "There was a shooting by a police officer and the neighbors weren't happy." She arrived on the scene, where police were in riot gear, being pelted with bottles and bricks.

"All I can remember was looking to my right and I saw a cavalry of police galloping down the street." The unit was in full dress regalia, having just returned from a special event. "Within 20 minutes the whole thing was over," Rush says, the memory still vivid. "The choice of messing with a cop who might weigh 140 or 150, or a horse made a big difference. The horses have a way of getting in there."

Rush is no longer with the Philadelphia Police Department, even though it's clear that her heart often lingers on the beat. She is now Vice President for Public Safety at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is also Vice President of the Philadelphia Police Foundation, (www.phillypolicefoundation.org) the organization that is raising money to support the mounted police unit.

Regional Leaders on a Mission
Rush says that the Foundation is in a quiet phase of fund-raising now. "The board is comprised of leaders throughout the region in the public and private sectors," she explains. "We are looking to launch a full-fledged campaign within the next couple of months." She says that they have held a couple of smaller events, but they've already received significant support.

"When we did the news conference we were also very fortunate to be able to announce a $100,000 grant from the State of Pennsylvania," Rush says. The grant was facilitated by Senator Lawrence J. Farnese, Jr., and Rush says it's seed money. "The next part of this, the heavy lifting, will be to get that seed money up to $2 million," she explains.

She says that the foundation is developing a comprehensive fund-raising plan. "The board is very diverse, but it has people who are well-known in the various communities in the Philadelphia region. We really see that the mounted patrol is a positive thing for the city and the region."

Champing at the Bit, Eager to Go Forward
The four horses that the Newark Police Department offered to Philadelphia are still in New Jersey until suitable stabling is found. McCann says that Newark acquired the horses through Standardbred Retirement Foundation, and "in a sense, what we're doing is transferring the adoption," he says. "We're actually readopting them from the Standardbred Retirement Foundation." According to Evers, of the Philadelphia Police Department's Office of Public Affairs, "Horses are the least of our problem; it's the infrastructure we need to develop."

Several years ago the City of Philadelphia turned several historic stables in Fairmount Park over to the Parks Commission. The Parks Commission in turn leased the stables to various private groups that set up non-profit organizations for the maintenance and capital needs of the buildings and grounds. While any of these properties might have worked out for the mounted patrol unit, they're not available now.

Evers says that the Newark Police Department's generous offer of the horses won't last forever. If other potential owners come forward ready to take the horses, Philadelphia could lose these experienced, fully trained mounts.

Despite the many hurdles that are facing the nascent mounted patrol unit, people associated with it, like Rush and McCann, are eager to get going. In fact, two of the officers who will join the mounted patrol have been hard at work improving their basic horse knowledge. Officers Ed Holmes and Jane Rash have been attending monthly lectures on various equine topics at the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center in Kennett Square. They've been exploring symptoms and diagnosis of neurologic disease in horses, stem cell therapy and other important issues related to horse health and well-being.

A Regal Approach to Crowd Control
Rush says that there will never be a better time to bring the mounted patrol back to Philadelphia. "When you look at the fortunes of our sports teams the past few years, we've had national exposure. It's a very proud moment for the City," she says.

She says that she remembers the mounted patrol on the field when the Phillies won the World Series in 1980, and the world watched those beautiful horses standing quietly in the midst of a raucous celebration at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. "The mounted patrol was a very regal way for crowd control."

Reflecting on the challenges facing police in 2011, Rush believes that horses can make a huge difference. "Quite frankly the recent surge in these large groups of kids-we've had them here at Penn at 40th and Market-they're all over Center City," she says, referring to what some people call "flash mobs,"-a term the police deliberately avoid using. "It's a situation that you're a cop in one of those mob situations and you can't see over the crowd." Enter the mounted police, high enough to see over the crowd and assess the situation more precisely, and powerful enough to move into the crowd and disperse it.

Philadelphia's geography makes it especially suitable for mounted police patrols. Fairmount Park is one of the nation's largest city parks. It's a municipally owned park, so patrolling it is up to the local police. In fact, according to the Trust for Public Land, a conservation organization, Philadelphia has nearly 44,000 acres of public park land within its borders.

How to Help
Rush says she hopes equestrians from the region will be as enthusiastic as she is about bringing back the mounted patrol. She says that even though she is allergic to horses, she still loves to pet them and she understands the primal connections between humans and horses. She has witnessed it many times.

And all along the diverse paths she has trod in her professional career, horses arrived on the scene at pivotal moments. "When I first came out of high school, I didn't go right to college. I was working at Beneficial Bank, and one day the alarm went off," she says. There was a lot of commotion, followed by a truly unusual event, as the police arrived on the scene. "All of a sudden, a horse came rushing through the door, and stood right there in the lobby."

As she considers her leadership role in raising money to bring the mounted patrol back to Philadelphia, she sees it through a unique lens. She walked a beat. She saw the advantage of the mounted unit-how they saved lives one terrifying night at 5th and Indiana when, as she put it, "without the horses, we would have had a different outcome." She recognizes the unique value horses add to volatile situations, and the connections they make with people who might otherwise be intimidated by police. And as a Philadelphian, she sees the mounted patrol as a wonderful advertisement for the City, right up there with the sports teams that are ever more frequently making national headlines.

Anyone wishing to support the fund-raising effort can find information on the website, www.phillypolicefoundation.org, where there will also be updates on upcoming events.

McCann also wants to encourage equestrians to support the mounted unit. "I will entertain all donations of surplus English equipment," he says. Anyone with bridles, bits, saddles, or other equipment to donate can call McCann at (215) 685-8787.