Four Duluth police officers are trading in the comforts of their squad cars for saddles.
The officers, who have little to no experience riding, have just four months to learn how be an officer on horseback, according to Northland News Center.
The police department is set to deploy its mounted patrol unit in June just in time for one of the city's biggest events – Grandma's Marathon.
The department dropped its mounted program in 2004 after losing its lease on its stable, the Duluth News Tribune reports. The department has received about $100,000 in grants and donations to restart the program, which costs about $30,000 a year for boarding, feeding and caring for the horses.
Last week, the department finalized an agreement with the Three Rivers Park District in Hennepin County, which disbanded its mounted program. The deal includes four horses already trained for law enforcement, which came much cheaper than buying new, the newspaper reports.
Police departments typically utilize mounted units for crowd control – an officer on horseback can do the job of 10 to 20 officers on foot because of their wider range of view, especially in crowded areas, according to the St. Paul Police Mounted Patrol Foundation website. Minneapolis, St. Paul and the University of Minnesota are the only other police departments in the state that have mounted units, St. Paul Mounted Police says. Several Minnesota counties use volunteer units for special events.
Duluth's mounted unit will mostly patrol the downtown business district, Canal Park and be present at major events throughout the city. But the program won't just be doing public relations for the department. Police say the program will pay for itself by deterring crime and lessening the workload for downtown officers, the Duluth News Tribune reports.
"We don't want to just prance around and look pretty," Officer Amber Peterson, a mounted police officer in training, told the newspaper. "We want to get out there and make a difference. We want to show we're there to work and improve the downtown crime perception."
Peterson, along with the other mounted officers, recently began learning how to ride and care for the horses. Once they feel comfortable on the horse, they’ll move into law enforcement training. They'll learn how to control crowds, make arrests and assist in traffic stops from atop the horses, the Duluth News Tribune reports.