By Isadora Pennington
You may have seen them riding around the perimeter of Grant Park, or Downtown during music events, and sometimes as crowd control during protests and marches. The Atlanta Police Department Mounted Patrol is a team of officers on horseback who are highly specialized and indelibly connected to their equine companions.
Nestled at the bend of Cherokee Avenue just south of Grant Park, the mounted patrol property was established in the early ‘90s. The unit was briefly shut down but resurrected under former Chief Richard Pennington in 2002 and has since thrived as an important part of the police force. The nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) helped to get the unit started again, and has continued to support them ever since.
Being on horseback brings a different element to any police activity and can have a significant impact on citizens. The officers have a higher vantage point and can assist with surveillance, plus people have a tendency to calm down when facing the mounted patrol horses.
“We’re effective,” said Lt. Brian Schiffbauer. “Whenever we are Downtown, no crimes occur, and that’s important.”
Under the leadership of the Chief George Turner, who has made it a point to keep tabs on efficiency, the unit maintains an emphasis on monitoring the metrics and success rates of their mounted patrol team.
Not just any police officer can become part of the unit, and tasks include time spent bonding, caring for, and training with their horses. Each officer must develop a significant and lasting emotional relationship with the horses, and the process requires an officer who is dedicated to the role. Each officer in the unit is vetted and selected to become a member of the team.
There are misconceptions and assumptions about mounted patrols. Do they chase after criminals? Is there a protocol for arresting individuals while on horseback? Did they throw detainees over the backs of the horses and haul them to jail Old West style?
Actually, the officers never dismount while in the field. If they come across criminal activity, the officers and their horses approach and detain suspects until foot patrol or squad car arrives.
“If they [suspects] get combative, we kind of sandwich them between two horses,” Schiffbauer said. He said the horses enjoy getting involved in this way, and finding oneself pressed between two thousand pounds of horse is surely a sobering experience.
Currently, the unit has six officers and 13 horses with one, Guardian, now close to retirement. “We’re gonna miss Guardian,” said Schiffbauer. “He is a great horse.” The officers develop emotional connections to the horses over time, and parting with the horses when they retire can be a difficult experience, he said.
Officer Christopher Pellegrino serves as an example of the unique bond between rider and horse. His horse, Smokey, was having a hard time eating his grain and the only way that he would eat it was if Pellegrino held it in a container and poured some water on it every morning. Pellegrino kept working with Smokey until he weaned him of the habit.
The officers love of horses is obvious just by looking around the stable office, where horse figurines, pictures and doodles are plentiful.
So next time you’re at a concert downtown or driving through Grant Park and see these horsebound cops, feel free to say hi and stop by the mounted patrol headquarters sometime to meet the horses up close and personal. Visitors can take a tour of the property, and learn how the officers care for the horses and train for their police work.
To learn more about the unit, go online to atlantapolicefoundation.org/MountedPatrol-20 or call (404) 624-0690. The patrol barn at 1001 Cherokee Ave. SE is open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., as long as the gates are open.
Photos By Isadora Pennington