There is nothing quite like an 1,800-pound animal to make someone move out of the way, so it's no surprise police want more of them.
State police are seeking the donation of horses for their mounted patrol team. The horses will be used statewide for crowd control, searches and ceremonial events.
"During crowd control, if you're on one of these horses, you can get ground and keep it clear," said Sgt. Doug Carnahan of the county police. "Lots of city people aren't used to being around such a big animal."
Horses serve essential role in police force
State police are looking for donations of horses to use in its mounted patrol. Local police also use horses for crowd control, searches and ceremonial events. (Video by Jessica Contrera; 7/2/13)
Horses have long been considered a vital part of the force by state troopers and local police alike. In 1905, Pennsylvania was the first state to incorporate horses into its law enforcement. Despite technological advances, state police still maintain 25 equestrians, and Allegheny County police have six.
State police are in need of horses for its mounted patrol. Draft and draft crosses are preferred. Any donated horse must be:
• Between the ages of 5 and 15 years old
• Gelded (castrated)
• No shorter than 16 hands (5 feet 4 inches)
• No taller than 18 hands
• In good health
• Free of serious stable vices
• Quiet and calm
To make a donation or get more information, contact Cpl. Michael Funk at 1-717-533-9111, extension 321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The county horses were used for crowd control during a 1997 Ku Klux Klan rally, the 2009 G-20 Summit, and six Steelers Super Bowl wins.
The chaos of these events is why police have such strict requirements on the horses they will accept. The animals must be calm, physically fit and extremely trainable.
"We spend weeks getting them ready for an event like the G-20," said county Officer Christopher Swanson. "We hit them with pool noodles, fired weapons around them and set off smoke bombs. They have to be able to handle anything."
And the horses must be as friendly as they are fierce. When mounted patrols are on duty, they are frequently approached by pedestrians and children interested in the horses.
"People are more apt to talk to us when we're on the horses," said state police Cpl. Brad Zook. "They see how big they are, or how handsome, or think of their own animals, and they want to come to us.
"It really breaks down the normal barrier that exists, trooper versus the public."
The horses' visibility makes some breeds more suitable for police work than others. Draft and draft cross horses, the type currently sought by state police, were bred for farm labor and therefore have calmer dispositions.
County police will accept steeds that have been used as show horses or race horses, such as thoroughbreds and Arabians.
"They're not as calm, but they are definitely more accustomed to the crowds and loud noises," Officer Swanson said.
Both state and county police attain horses only through donation. Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard said the city has not had horses in its police force for "quite some time," but did not know when they were eliminated.
County police are not actively looking for horses at this time but are willing to consider any horse that fits the requirements if space allows. Horses donated to state police will be subject to a trial period of 90 days. Any horse deemed unsuitable for behavioral or health reasons will be returned to its owner. Horses that are accepted will live in Hershey.
Cpl. Zook said taking in additional horses will allow a few of the state's older mounts to retire.
"When it's time for them to retire, we'll offer them back to their owner," Cpl. Zook said. "If that doesn't work out, we will be sure to find a good home for every horse."
Jessica Contrera: email@example.com or 412-263-1458. Twitter: @mjcontrera. First Published July 6, 2013 4:00 AM