Duluth Police Department could bring back mounted patrols
Duluth police Chief Gordon Ramsay wants to return to the days of yesteryear for a new tool to increase police presence and keep people safe downtown.
Ramsay is hoping to re-establish his department’s mounted patrol and have two to four 1,200-pound horses ridden by officers sitting nine to 10 feet in the air as they patrol the downtown.
“An officer on a horse has the presence of several officers,” Ramsay said. “They are seen from some distance away, they have a presence about them. The good guys love them and the bad guys don’t.”
Ramsay supervised the former police mounted patrol when it was cut in 2004 because the lease was lost on the St. Croix Substation in Canal Park, where a barn also housed the horses. And money that had been allocated from the tourism tax was cut at that time, he said.
“Tourism is a major part of economics here, and we need to make sure that the tourists are safe and feel safe because perception really is the issue,” Ramsay said. “My vision is when people think of the downtown they think of a mounted police officer. Obviously a horse is much more visible, you see a lot more on a horse and there’s the factor of moving people along on a horse. And it’s memorable. People remember that. When we talk about safety downtown, the issue is perception.”
Ramsay said the city and the Greater Downtown Council are seeking grants to help fund the mounted patrol. He estimated it would cost $10,000 to $12,000 per horse annually, plus start-up costs.
Jim Rose, a retired Duluth police officer now living in Darwin, Minn., trains mounted police patrols around the country.
“This has been a tool that they’ve used in so many of the major cities to deal with a lot of street crime, street disturbances, kind of like the problem you are having on Superior Street and Michigan Street,” Rose said. “This is something that cities like Chicago and New York have had for 120 or 130 years. You get good PR, you get a quick response, you’re not held up by traffic and officers are arriving with an extra tool to deal with a given situation, and that would be the horse.”
Rose said that mounted patrols serve as a deterrent to street crime.
“One of the things we found when we were patrolling is that the people that were going to cause trouble tend to leave the area because they could see you coming,” he said. “They never got around to causing the problem. On the other hand, if it is a big crowd and you have a troublemaker you’re able to see him because you are sitting up there and the horse will help you get through that crowd.”
Ramsay said he saw officers roll off a horse onto a fleeing suspect and never forgot it. “It’s very memorable,” he said. “Just seeing a horse running after a person and the action involved is a very memorable sight.”
But that’s the exception rather than the rule, Rose said. “The horse is trained to knock the person down, or to corral the person up against a building, a car or whatever else.”
Ramsay said quite a few men and women in his 148-officer department have expressed an interest in working in the mounted patrol unit.
The original mounted patrol worked primarily in Canal Park, but Ramsay sees this unit focusing its efforts downtown.
“I see the value of how they are deployed in other cities and the impact that they have,” he said. “We’re working diligently to improve the perception of downtown safety. We’ve already pulled officers from other districts. One of our benchmarks is downtown for performance and increasing the perception of safety.”
Ramsay said the department is looking for a visible location for a horse stable downtown, but no spot has yet been identified. “Thousands and thousands of people visited that St. Croix station every year. It was an attraction that was very unique,” he said.
If money is obtained, Ramsay said the goal would be to have the mounted patrol in action by late this year or early next year. “The grants, funding and donations are critical to making it happen,” he said. “I do believe it will have a tremendous impact on the downtown and the overall feel of downtown.”
Article written by Mark Stodghill of the Duluth News Tribune