Have you ever been downtown Grand Rapids and had the feeling of traveling back in time? Or maybe you felt like a Mountie took a wrong turn and ended up here in Michigan instead of in Canada, eh? Turns out, it’s still 2014 and you’re still in Grand Rapids. You just happened to come across the Kent County Mounted Police Unit, and they’re not as old as you might think.
In 2003, the first section of Millennium Park along the Grand River opened up to the public. The natural trails, lakes, and streams inside the park made vehicular law enforcement difficult, and in some cases, impossible.
The Kent Country Traffic Squad had a tough assignment on their hands. How would they navigate the park without vehicles? The answer to that question required going back to the future, back to the days when horseback was the quickest way around. It required a mounted unit and a large fundraising effort of $1.5 million!
Flash forward nine years later and the Mounted Unit has a beautiful new home in Rockford. Over 30 acres of land east of Rockford High School was donated for the cause. On that land sits a state-of-the-art $725,000 barn where the horses live and train.
The entire complex features 15 acres for the horses to roam, a 150 by 300 foot outdoor training area, 11 stalls, along with an 80 by 200 foot indoor training area in the main barn and another barn on the property with five more stalls.
Currently, the barn houses eight horses with the goal of bringing in two more at some point.
The Mounted Division isn’t just used for navigating parks, but is an extremely effective method of crowd control. “One mounted officer is worth 12 to 14 on the ground,” according to Traffic Squad Captain Donley De Groot.
All of the horses are gelding Quarter Horses with a height of at least 16 hands (a hand is equal to four inches). Training can take up to six-months with the goal to be “bulletproof”, with no possible “spooks”.
Officers aren’t chosen to ride the horses, but instead volunteer for the Mounted Unit, and that officer must be a member of the Traffic Squad. Training can take up to a year before the Officer is ready to ride in a live situation.
While the horses are a great way to keep a keen eye and manage large crowds such as New Years Eve and ArtPrize, they are downtown for more than just big events.
The horses are also special with regards to citizen engagement with the police, “You never have anyone come up asking to pet a cruiser,” said De Groot.