Special partnership keeps mounted unit on street

February 8, 2010

A mounted police officer talks with young visitors to The Grace Foundation in Northern California.

Mounted police patrols have been axed across the United State to meet budget cuts, but a special partnership in California is keeping one unit near Sacramento on the streets.

The four horses of the Folsom Mounted Patrol Unit are out doing their duty thanks to a deal between the police and the The Grace Foundation of Northern California.

Three years ago, Grace Foundation director Beth DeCaprio and Folsom Mounted Patrol supervisor, Sergeant Dirk Regan, had an idea to join forces.

A plan was formulated whereby The Grace Foundation would care for the police horses at no charge. In exchange, the mounted unit would be incorporated into Grace's educational programmes, presentations and special events at the ranch, where more than 6000 children visit each year.

Many of the children come from backgrounds with abuse and neglect and have never met police in a positive way.

"Horses draw the children's attention, and when their attention is focused they are more open to hearing what the officer has to say and more interested in developing a relationship with the officer because of the horse," says Grace family therapist and programme director Julie McBride.

"After a day with the police, the children's image that they previously had towards the police has changed with potentially lifetime effects," she adds.

Besides working with at-risk youth at the ranch, the police teach a segment for Grace's life science field trips offered year-round to schoolchildren.

To engage the audience, their topic contains a section detailing the difference between horse manure and human offerings, and explaining why it is OK for horse droppings to be on the road, but not a human's.

"Hands down, it's the most popular part of the camp," says DeCaprio.

She continues: "Our relationship with the Folsom Mounted Patrol benefits everyone involved; the horses, the police, and most importantly, our children and community,

"Our goal at Grace is to teach that everyone has a purpose in life, including our animals.

"In fact, two of the horses that now serve on the Mounted Unit force were initially rescued and rehabilitated at the Grace Foundation.

"It is a lesson that is not lost on the 100 or so special needs children that participate in therapeutic riding at the ranch."

Sergeant Regan says he is concerned for the communities that are losing their mounted units. "Horses offer a high visibility method for crime prevention," he says.

"They can travel into areas where cars simply cannot go."

From the community relationship side, he says: "Horses are universally irresistible even if police officers aren't."

One of the most recent victims of city budget cuts is the mounted unit in San Diego, the closing of which was undertaken to save $US273,000 in annual costs.

The seven horses, and their tack, are currently being auctioned online.