RPD Mounted Patrol uses horses to establish community relationships

Richmond Police's Mounted Unit is one of the oldest of its kind in the country.
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 7:14 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In Richmond’s Southwood neighborhood, you may see police, but you won’t hear sirens. Instead, you’ll hear the sound of hooves on the pavement from a different mode of police transportation.

The Richmond Police Mounted Patrol officers swapped their squad cars for a saddle and four legs to have more positive interactions with the communities they serve.

“We have that interaction with them, and then we can start talking about other things like what’s going on in the community. Is there anything we can do for them?” Mounted supervisor Sergeant Anthony Paciello said. “The metal around our cars is a barrier, and the horses are a common ground.”

These horses are stationed in stables on Richmond’s northside, but they spend most of their time canvassing the city’s southside, areas police say they have not only seen an uptick in crime but also have strained relationships with police.

RPD says it’s normal for people to turn the other way when they see officers coming, but today people who live in the Southwood neighborhood greeted them with smiles.

“It’s just a different role,” said mounted officer Tommy O’Connell. “It’s just a different interaction than your everyday interaction of trying to gather information for reports and then on to the next call and doing it over and over again. It really is much more rewarding at the end of the day.”

Taylor Simpson says the feeling is mutual. She was walking her dog when she spotted the two officers and their horses on patrol.

“It just gave me some dopamine, some serotonin and some feel-good,” Simpson said. “It’s less robotic, less corporate. It’s more humane.”

Paciello says most people associate the mounted units with special weekend events or parades, but he says it’s pretty common to see them patrol the city’s neighborhoods about five days a week. It’s a method of building relationships she says is just good horse sense.

“Especially just being able to talk to them face to face as opposed to walking up to a car where they’re shielded by bulletproof glass. It just feels more personable,” Simpson said. “I think it breaks up that communication barrier a little bit, and it’s more personable; it’s closer so that things can actually get done because there is a closer relationship between the people who live here and the people who have the power to do something about it.”

According to RPD, the Richmond Mounted Patrol was established in 1894 and is one of the country’s oldest units of its kind.

“The big picture of the mounting unit is that we are really just ambassadors for the city,” Paciello said.

One 2014 study by Oxford University says a mounted officer is six times more likely to be approached by a citizen than an officer on foot. The mounted unit encourages the public to come to speak with them and engage with their horses.

After every interaction, the officers leave people with a trading card of the horses on the unit with information about them and their personalities and also how to get in touch with police to further strengthen relationships in the community.