The Oxford Police Department’s (OPD) mounted patrol unit is often out engaging with the community atop their large friends.
During the week, the horses get to relax and enjoy the pasture, but on the weekends they go to work trying to protect the community along with their fellow officers on the Square.
“The whole purpose of us starting the mounted unit was to effectively deal with the crowds without us looking like we are intimidating, if we have a whole bunch of officers on foot,” said Captain Libby Lytle.
For some, the efforts appear to be working.
“I feel as though it alleviates tension between, like, the society and police officers,” said Xavier Short, a student at Ole Miss. “I think that the horses basically attract people to come talk to the police officers.”
However, the effort to connect to the community involves extra work. Officers who are assigned to the mounted patrol unit are required to take care of the horses after their regular shifts are through.
Members of the mounted unit brush the horses, clean their hooves and saddle them up, all before going on patrol. In addition, officers feed the horses two times a day, ride them and train with them to handle potentially upsetting scenarios such as smoke bombs or firecrackers being set off. Many of the officers, however, don’t mind the extra tasks.
“It’s a lot of fun. You know, I don’t mind having something added to my duties if it’s a lot of fun and being able to hang out with the horses and you know, be effective on the horse is great,” said Lytle.
Officer Lytle says that the horses can actually be therapeutic for many people who may be intimidated or scared of the large animals.
“We try to be able to allow people, who are scared of horses, break that barrier and that fear and come over and pet the horses,” said Lytle.
The OPD mounted unit also works with the University of Mississippi Equestrian Club, which helps train and exercise the horses when the officers are unable to due to shift challenges.
“Normally, if you’re up on the Square on foot as an officer, people aren’t going to want to approach you like they would when you are on a horse and there is some kind of a connection with you because you are on a horse,” said Lytle. “It really opens up that doorway of conversation. We have people cheer and holler at us and we wave, kind of like we’re in a parade, when we walk around the Square.”
Story contributed by Meek School of Journalism and New Media students Terrence Johnson: firstname.lastname@example.org and Alexandria Paton: email@example.com.