A Ten Foot, 1700 Pound Cop may sound like a rarity, but in New York City, you’ll find them patrolling in every borough, in every season, and they attract curious and admiring glances most everywhere they go.
Of course, The Ten Foot Cop is also known as the Mounted Policeman. And they’re a sight to behold on city streets. Theodore’s general perceptions of the Mounted Police have been based on a healthy respect. But he’s always felt it made sense to maintain at least a bit of a distance between his furry self and that of the hulking beast with a badge.
But recently, after years of greeting these special police officers from that respectful distance, Theodore and I thought we’d venture a bit closer, and pay a visit to the 1st Precinct in Tribeca, housed in a landmark structure built in 1912, where a portion of NYPD’s Mounted Unit is stationed.
From the photo below, taken just outside the open stable doors, you can see that Theo’s feeling a bit trepidatious about our visit….
But after we’re greeted by the super warm and friendly Officer Shaun Walters, Theodore begins to relax and take in the multitude of unusual smells enveloping his senses, and Officer Walters turns his attention to readying his equine partner, Lee, for the day ahead.
Lee, like many of the NYPD’s horses, was named for an officer killed in the line of duty. And as I watch Lee getting tacked up…standing calm and looking regal in the morning light…it seems that he bears his name and his responsibilities proudly. He’s a beautiful creature with great stature, and I find myself dazzled by this handsome animal as Officer Walters fits his halter and saddles him up.
The last part of the team’s morning routine is Lee’s favorite. Officer Walters spoon feeds his partner a bowl of warm oatmeal. It’s a great way to start the day, especially, a frigid winter one, when this team will be patrolling the canyons of New York, with bitter winds swirling around them.
As Lee polishes off his snack, Officer Walters, who has been a veteran of the Mounted Police for several years, tells me that he’d never ridden a horse before he began training with the Unit, and of course, now, after several years on duty, he’s a pro.
After graduating from the Police Academy, hundreds of officers compete for less than two dozen of the highly prized available posts within the Unit. And once accepted, further training at the NYPD’s Remount School of Horsemanship is required. The training is highly demanding, and learning to navigate the chaotic streets of New York on horseback is a formidable task.
Watching Officer Walters and Lee together, it’s obvious that horse and rider share a steadfast bond and affection. They both know each other’s quirks and strengths, which allows them to work with great confidence while on patrol.
While walking through Tribeca together, we learn that the NYPD’s Mounted Unit is the oldest Mounted Unit in North America. Even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was formed in 1873, two years after the Big Apple’s Unit began their work. And the Unit remains an important and integral part of the Police force.
Adept at deterring crime and keeping the peace, the Mounted Police are not only highly visible, but they’re particularly skilled at crowd control. NYPD officials say that in a crowd, one mounted police officer is as effective as seven to ten on foot.
These specially trained horses and their riders in blue are able to maneuver with great efficiency and speed in areas where cruisers can’t go, and from their elevated viewpoint, they can spot trouble from much farther away than an officer on the ground.
According to the New York Times, though Mounted Police units are being downsized across the country, Gotham still boasts one of the largest units in the US with 79 officers and 60 horses. (It should be noted, however, that the NYPD is not immune to budget cuts. A decade ago there there were nearly twice as many officers and their horses patrolling these streets than in 2011.)
As we followed the pedestrian path into Battery Park, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I often get while exploring the city. To have met Officer Walters and Lee, to learn about their devotion to protecting the citizens of New York, to hear about the challenges of their duties….it all reminds me that this city of 8 million can often radiate what feels like a warm, small town vibe. And it’s the special people that make it so.
Just then, the wind picked up in a fierce way, and Theodore and I realized it was finally time to say our goodbyes and beat a path back home….but not before Lee, who has been known to have a mischevious streak, sent Theo off with a farewell he won’t soon forget.
As Theodore, thoroughly distracted, stood surveying the scene near the marina at the World Financial Center, Lee thought he’d give Theo a bit of a nibble on the bum.
Since I was standing next to Theo, chatting with Officer Walters, Theo naturally assumed that the pleasant scratch he was receiving was from his caretaker’s hands. So, he stood, for quite awhile, enjoying the attention. But as I stepped back to snap the photos here, Theo turned his head to discover that the scratcher was in fact, Lee, and not me at all.
Dismayed and a bit confused,Theodore retreated to my side, as I doubled over with laughter at his expense. Sorry, Buddy. But that was the best chuckle I had all week!
After a fond farewell, Theodore and I and walked back through Tribeca facing the bracing winter winds….beaming all the way home…
…Many thanks to Officer Walters and Lee for our edifying walk and behind the scenes look at the NYPD’s Mounted Unit. And we are grateful for the hard work of all of New York’s Finest.
Donations to help support the NYPD Mounted Unit’s many expenses can be made by visiting the New York Police Foundation by clicking HERE. Indicating that funds should be directed to Mounted Unit is advised.
NYPD 1st Precinct, Tribeca. 16 Ericsson Place at Varick.