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Officer Marianne Scheel, left, riding Whisper and officer Jess Mendel with Bucky at the UMPD mounted patrol training graduation in Delano this May.
Horses on patrol
Twin Cities campus welcomes equestrian cops
By Cass Erickson
From Brief, June 15, 2005
Do people behave better around horses? According to Lieutenant Troy Buhta, they do.
"People like horses," says Buhta, who supervises the U of M Police Department's new mounted patrol unit. "They don't want to hurt a horse, and they don't want to be stepped on by a horse. When people see a horse coming, I believe they're going to get out of the way."
Beginning this week, keep an eye out for U police officers Marianne Scheel and Jess Mendel patrolling the Twin Cities campus on thoroughbreds Whisper and Bucky. They are the first regular mounted patrol on a University campus. The former race horses were donated by Canterbury Park Race Track in Shakopee. Year-round, Scheel and Mendel will ride Whisper and Bucky most of the time and sometimes draft horses Diesel and Jake.
The UMPD's decision to put officers on horseback is a great way to improve community relations, according to Buhta. He lists several advantages. For example, an officer on horseback in a crowd has a birds-eye view of things that can't be seen on foot. And in a crowd, one mounted patrol officer can do the job of ten officers on the ground. Officers on horseback can also go places a car can't, stop traffic, and practice regular law enforcement. The only thing they can't do is chase people into buildings.
"But their appearance acts as a deterrent," adds Buhta. "When people see officers on horses it might keep them from committing a crime--give them a second thought about stealing a bike or committing other crimes outside."
Police departments around town--the Minneapolis Park Police, Minneapolis Police, St. Paul Police, and UMPD--often work together at community events. The UMPD had considered a mounted patrol for five or six years and recently learned that the Minneapolis Park Police needed a way to ease the cost of four horses. The two departments struck a deal to split the cost and use of the horses. Buhta says it's a win-win situation.
"It helps their budget, and it helps us out," says Buhta. "We don't have to go purchase horses, find a place to keep them, or take care of them."
After a selective screening process, officers Scheel and Mendel were chosen as UMPD's designated riders.
"I've always loved horses," says Scheel. "I never did think or dream that I would actually be paid to ride horses. I feel truly blessed to represent UMPD in the new mounted unit and for this new twist in my career."
This spring, Scheel and Mendel took a rigorous six-week training program, coordinated by the Minneapolis Police Department, at the Shriners' barn in Delano where the horses live.
"It's the hardest work I've ever done," Scheel says. "I went home filthy and exhausted every day."
Initial training consisted of activities from mucking out stalls to private lessons, all designed to get horse and rider comfortable. The officers and their horses walked through streamers and a can pit. They walked over a shiny plastic tarp. Scheel and Mendel practiced shooting handguns from horseback and learned how their horses responded to the sound of firecrackers and the smell of smoke bombs. And Scheel learned that Whisper is terrified of a giant beach ball.
Next came four weeks of street training. Horses and riders toured the East and West Banks of the Twin Cities campus for two weeks with mounted patrol from the Minneapolis Park Police (perhaps you saw them). Now they're on "dog shift," 6:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., with the Minneapolis mounted police, helping to close the bars in the Warehouse District.
Soon they'll be on campus regularly. If you'd like to pet one of the horses, let the officers know--they'll be happy to oblige.
Cass Erickson is a writer and editor in University Relations. Her grandfather was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in his youth.