by Kathy King
Co-host, Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau
The Cleveland Mounted Police Unit has a rich history that spans over 100 years. I remember my first encounter with a Mounted Officer in downtown Cleveland. I was working and had come out for walk on E. 12th Street on my break when I heard a familiar clip clop. From that day in 1997 forward, I was hooked and always on the look-out for these steeds as I walked to Public Square.
Although horses were used in police work from the City’s inception in 1836, the current Mounted Unit traces its roots to the Cleveland Cavalry, formed in 1877. In 1895, its name was changed to Troop A 107th Cavalry Regiment, Ohio National Guard, but it was popularly known as the Black Horse Troop. The Mounted Police Unit as we now know it, formed between the years 1905 and 1909, when Police Chief Fred Kohler borrowed two horses and assigned two patrolmen to mounted patrol.
At its peak in 1932, the Cleveland Mounted Police numbered 85 horses. By 1948, the Unit was divided into three troops: Troop A, which patrolled downtown and formed the drill team; Troop B, which patrolled the East Side park system; and Troop C, which patrolled Edgewater Park and the shoreline.
In 1933, the Unit won the International Drill Team Championship at the Chicago World’s Fair, defeating precision riding teams from around the world. In 1946, the Unit represented the United States at the International Horse Show in Mexico City. The riders so impressed the president of Mexico that he made each man an honorary member of the Mexican National Police Force.
In 1953, the Unit marched in President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inaugural parade. As late as 1965, the Unit contained 56 horses. Although the number of horses began to dwindle from that point on, they were still considered to be the finest in the country. The Unit was invited to march in President Ronald Reagan’s 1985 inaugural parade, but a minus 40 degree wind-chill factor forced its cancellation. In 1989, the Cleveland Mounted Police Unit was the only mounted police unit invited to march in the inaugural parade of George H.W. Bush after the parade committee ranked it No. 1 in the Country.
Mounted units everywhere are a great asset to a police force, community and citizens because of their unique abilities. A mounted officer breaks down barriers between the police and public. The horse attracts and engages people. They pet, feed, kiss, and talk to the animal while discussing him and in turn connect with the rider. Mounted officers walk slower, and can observe, smell and hear things that an officer in a patrol car can miss. People approach and tell them of things that they don’t have a chance to tell officers in a car. The mounted officer can get to remote locations and through situations that a patrol car cannot. From their elevated position, they are highly visible, and can search and oversee far more than an officer on foot. In a crowd situation, one properly trained mounted officer team is as effective as 20 officers on foot. Not only are mounted police outstanding patrol officers, they serve among Cleveland’s finest as good will ambassadors to citizens and visitors.
The horses that currently serve the city of Cleveland as members of the Mounted Unit stabled at 1150 E. 38th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland’s financial deficit in 2003 forced cutbacks and the historic Mounted Police Unit was set to be eliminated. A volunteer group of civic and business leaders formed the Committee to Save the Cleveland Mounted Police and revived one of our proudest traditions. Currently there are five officers and eight horses that patrol the new attractions in downtown Cleveland as well as the neighborhoods. If you have ever been to a game or concert at the Browns Stadium, you may have been delighted to see the Mounted Officers there on the walkway as attendees left the venue. Or you may have walked down Euclid Avenue and heard people saying: “Wow, look at the horse!” Yes, they are impressive, yes they look great, yes, they are great for Public Relations, but make no mistake, they are there to protect.
Of course we see the patrol horses in parades and funeral precessions but we don’t always see or hear about them breaking up crowds, responding when there is a report of shots being fired, chasing down robbers in alleys where a car can’t go, or subduing unruly citizens. There was the time Officer Cortez and his mount Paco intervened during a shooting at Tower City, found the gun and apprehended the suspect. And another incident when Officer Seeger and his mount Mandy subdued a man as he was kicking the windows at a sandwich shop on Euclid Avenue. These are just a couple of examples highlighting impressive actions of the mounted unit.
In 2006, under the leadership of Sgt. Donald Struthers, a downtown Cleveland ride was organized. It was my dream come true to ride alongside the officers that I visited with on my work days. Seventy plus riders enjoyed the day; staging at the Muni parking lot and riding to Public Square past the Old Stone Church. Sgt. Struthers has since retired, and in 2012 Sgt. Mark Medwid took over the leadership of the unit. On September 22, 2012, 70 plus riders again had the opportunity to ride the streets of Cleveland thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Cleveland Mounted Police and the Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau. Since these horses are not funded by the City of Cleveland they rely on donations for care (the officers are paid through the city). It costs $5,000 per year to support each horse in the unit.
This year on September 14, the Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau, the Horsemen’s Corral, and Mary Vedda, Realtor from Keller Williams are hosting another ride with the unit. Robin Swoboda from Cleveland’s Channel 3 will be joining us as well. Your $20 gets you in the ride, a T-shirt, photo ops and knowing you are helping to protect the existence of this unit. There will be food available, raffles and clothing for sale. If you cannot ride please join us at the Muni parking lot for a day of fun.
For more information check out the Cleveland Police Mounted Unit’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pages/Cleveland-Police-Mounted. To make a donation, checks can be made out to Friends of the Cleveland Mounted Unit and mailed to 17000 St. Clair, Cleveland, Ohio 44110. On behalf of mounts Mandy, Jakar, Star, Jack, Paco, Cruz, Sonny and Breeze; thank you for your support.