A group of seven Worcester police officers will be patrolling the streets of their city not in squad cars or on motorcycles, but mounted on horses.
Worcester’s Mounted Patrol Unit took to the streets June 19 after being out of commission since the 1940s, Worcester police said. For the past month, seven officers and four horses have been on duty patrolling neighborhoods, engaging with the community, assisting the town with crowd management, and participating in search and rescue operations.
The sheriff’s department dedicated the stables housing the patrol horses to former Worcester County sheriff John “Mike” Flynn during a ceremony Tuesday morning.
The sheriff’s department also built the stables housing the horses in the unit for under $20,000 after the city estimated it would cost over $1 million to accomodate the horses, said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis.
Flynn, a World War II veteran, was the head of the Mounted Patrol Unit during his time as sheriff, according to Worcester police.
Worcester Police Chief Steve Sargent said while the Mounted Patrol Unit was disbanded in Worcester “for practical reasons” as police turned to cars and motorcycles, horses provide certain benefits cars cannot.
Sargent said when the horses walked the streets on patrol and during the dedication ceremony, they elicited positive responses from the people who got the chance to interact with them.
“It’s not just young kids, but parents like to see the horses, too,” Sargent said. “It’s a good opportunity to break the ice. It build bridges in the neighborhoods.”
Mounted Patrol Units are useful for more than just enhancing public relations for police departments, Sargent said. They’re efficient in controlling crowds, and they can cross terrains that are inaccessible to officers in cars, on motorcycles, and even on foot when searching for missing people.
“They’re up so high that the officers have a great view of the neighborhood or wherever they are,” Sargent said.
The seven officers in the Mounted Patrol Unit were certified to patrol on the horses after participating in a 10-week program with the State Police. They were trained in patrol procedures, equine first aid, and equine nutrition.
In addition to caring for the horses while on patrol, the certified officers tend to their steeds after they dismount by brushing, feeding, and watering them.
“This is a lot of work, and they do a tremendous job,” Sargent said.
Sargent said the dedication ceremony was well received by the community.
Residents, state officials, local officials, and members of the former sheriff’s Mounted Patrol Unit listened to remarks, watched the ribbon cutting, and toured the stables, Sargent said. But the stars of the show were the horses, accepting greetings from those at the ceremony, and the officers in the unit, chatting with curious residents.
“It’s amazing how people are drawn to these beautiful beasts,” Sargent said.
Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story misstated the department that dedicated the stables. It was the sheriff’s department.