Downtown Toledo s warehouse district wraps around a pocket of country, where horses flip their tails in a paddock, hay is piled in a barn, and stables are scented with manure.
It sounds sweet and laid-back, but it s all business here at 122 South St. Clair St. It s the headquarters of the Toledo Police Department s mounted patrol, made up of a sergeant, eight patrolmen, and nine horses: Klinger, Duke, Mister, Renegade, Tarta Walker, Doc, KO, Rookie, and a big guy make that a huge guy that arrived on June 30.
He s not named yet, says Sgt. Ron Parton, who usually rides Duke, the only thoroughbred in the unit. The newcomer, a Belgian draft horse from Ashtabula, Ohio, that was purchased entirely with donations, is here on a standard 90-day trial.
He already meets some of the qualifications of a Toledo police horse. They re all gelded (castrated) males, and at least 15-2 hands high (meaning big enough to carry an officer comfortably through a shift). What he still has to prove is that he s calm, sociable, and able to be desensitized to the sounds, obstacles, and changing landscape of a city.
You have to train your horses daily, the sergeant says. Doc, for example, is wary of manhole covers but will now reluctantly proceed over them. Not so a thoroughbred who was sent home a year ago because he refused to walk through puddles.
Educational props in the paddock include mattresses that the horses walk over and a trough they walk through.
They push a colorful, 72-inch ball with their chests to train for crowd control. Officers line the hourses up and set off fireworks.
Most of the horses also have to learn to be neck reined by a one-handed rider, rather than being steered in the usual two-handed fashion. We have to keep the gun hand free, Sergeant Parton explains.
Their real purpose, after all, is police work. They re not just pretty faces especially KO, a 13-year-old Paint who has a habit of hanging his fat, pink tongue out of the side of his mouth.
They know when it s business or it s a leisure walk, Sergeant Parton says.
The unit patrols downtown and into adjacent neighborhoods, magnets for residents who approach with outstretched hands. People come out and talk. They won t do that if you re in a car, Sergeant Parton says.
The horses enjoy the contact as much as the humans do.
Fuss a bit over Renegade, a handsome Tennessee Walker, and then walk away: He ll call you back for more by loudly smacking his lips. (Hey, it works for him).
The mounted patrol isn t dispatched to calls, but will take them if they happen to be close, Sergeant Parton says.
But they re not the best choice when stealth is required.
Obviously it s going to be hard to sneak up on somebody, he points out. And when they do make an arrest, they have to call for a crew to transport the suspect.
But the mounted patrol is ideal for crowd control with face shields for the horses if conditions call for extra protection.
One of these guys is worth 10 to 12 officers on foot, Sergeant Parton says while stroking Klinger, a 9-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse that was donated by the Toledo Mud Hens in 2006. People on foot don t want to have a confrontation with a horse. In a crowd situation, there s nothing better.
The mounted patrol is on the streets around Fifth Third Field for all the Hens home games. Kids swarm them, asking the officers for their cards. Paid for with grant funds and similar to baseball trading cards, each shows an officer and steed on one side, and information about both of them on the back.
Plus this: Say Whoa to drugs! The horses also ride in parades and police funeral processions, and make celebrity appearances at places
such as elementary schools and senior centers. Getting all that attention, having one s own trading card it s enough to go to an officer s head. Except for one thing: stable duty. Members of the mounted patrol polish the tack, shower the horses, distribute rations of grain and hay, and clean the stalls every day.
Contact Ann Weber at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6126.