Meet the city’s so-called “10-foot cops.”
Since 1858, the NYPD Mounted Unit has been patrolling the streets of New York City.
The mission of the Mounted Unit is comprised of five pillars: counter-terrorism, crowd control, traffic control, prevention of street crime and community relations.
“Especially public relations,” said Sgt. Rafael Laskowski, who gave amNewYork a tour of the unit’s Manhattan headquarters. “We always get approached by people, especially kids. Everybody wants to come and pet the horse, they ask their name and their age.”
“We’re very approachable,” added Officer Pamela Bond. “It helps with the community policing a lot,” especially in areas where crime spikes.
While there are plenty of NYPD divisions that deal in counter-terrorism, the mounted unit has one advantage that the others don’t: height.
“We can see far away and we can assess the situation by sitting on the horse,” Laskowski said. “You can have 10 officers standing on the block, but everybody comes to us when they see us.”
Although the unit has 55 horses, only 22 are housed in Manhattan. The rest of our four-legged cops call either Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx home, with headquarters in each of those boroughs.
On Manhattan’s West Side, the horses and their human counterparts enjoy a 26,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that features 27 stalls, an exercise ring and an on-site horseshoer (also known as a farrier).
And believe it or not, the place doesn’t smell all that bad. You would think a stable in the middle of a city would lead to a pretty smelly situation, but according to Laskowski, the facility is equipped with a special HVAC system.
In fact, the headquarters is located on the ground floor of a luxury residential building, and Laskowski said the upstairs neighbors barely smell anything at all.
All smells aside, these horses are also known to have unique personalities. Not every horse, however, is cut out for police work, Laskowski explained. Bringing a skittish horse into the chaotic streets of New York City can be dangerous.
With that in mind, the NYPD goes through a selection and training process – for both horse and officer – to ensure the safety of the city.
Mostly raised in Pennsylvania, the horses don’t begin training for the NYPD until they’re fully grown. Members of the Mounted Unit will pick out around five to six horses at a time, bring them back to the unit’s training facility in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and put them through a week or two of training.
“They’ll take them out into the street to basically see if they’ll be able to work the street with the officer,” explained Laskowski. “If they’re too skittish, they’ll send them back, so sometimes out of five horses they’ll keep two or three.”
The unit’s police officers go through an even more intensive training process, according to Laskowski. And surprisingly, no experience with horses is necessary.
Any officer with at least three years with the department under his or her belt can apply to be part of the Mounted Unit.
“The NYPD wants to train officers in their specific style of riding,” Laskowski explained.
Officers who are chosen for the unit train for five to six hours per day over the course of about five to six months. Aside from training, the officers are also expected to perform basic care for the horses.
“Clean them, feed them; you do basic things on a daily basis,” Laskowski said, so the officers can familiarize themselves with the horses.
After training is complete, the officers get certified.
“That’s when you get your [riding] spurs,” Laskowski said with a grin.
“It’s basically a lot of work, a lot of physical work,” he added. “To me you train every day, even if you’re right here and go out on patrol. You pick up something new on a daily basis.”
After a horse and officer are paired, they almost always stay together unless the officer is sick or injured.
“We can’t keep the horse in the stall for let’s say, three months, six months; we’ll assign the horse to another officer,” Laskowski explained. “But most of the time the horse stays with his officer.”
Officer Pamela Bond said the department tries to pair horses and officers based on similar personalities during training. But before a pairing is made, a new officer to the unit will ride all of the horses in what they call “going around the horn,” so they can get comfortable with all of the different horses and their personalities.
Scroll down to meet five of the NYPD’s horses and learn more about the Manhattan headquarters.