March 2-PAC Minutes

The meeting was called to order at 6:10PM with 15 in attendance.

Our speaker was Sgt. Molly Fischer, who joined the Minneapolis Mounted Police in 2001.  She became Sgt. two years ago, and leads the division.

Although there are pictures of Mpls police on horseback that look like they go back 100 years, that  unit  was disbanded long ago.  The current division was established in 1994, briefly disbanded and then re-established in 1996 with four riders and three horses.  Since then the team has grown to 12 horses, three full time staff (down one due to retirement).  22 officers are fully certified Mounted Police.

Training the officers: Only sworn MPD officers are interviewed for training   They finish a 6 week basic mounted police course and attend a monthly refresher.  Special training events are scheduled as needed.  Officer Fischer assured us that 5 hours a day in the saddle for new riders is demanding.  This is a pass/fail training that takes place at the Zuhrah Shrine Ranch located in Maple Plain, Minnesota, which is where the animals are housed.   Only 30-35% of all applicants are experienced with horses.

Common duties include downtown and Dinkytown bar/restaurant closing on Friday and Saturday nights, crowd control at sporting events and other scheduled events, public relations events like National Night Out, parades,  and the MPD open house events, disaster call outs like the Northside tornado, and regular patrols in problem areas.  Every kind of duty is different and requires different training.

When and why is the mounted police team so effective:

–Horses are large enough to be intimidating.  Because of their size and their training, they move crowds without human force.  In an escalating situation, horses can separate groups of people whose energy is building and substantially diffuse a situation.

–Horses can work in teams to chase someone who is trying to get away and then hold the  person for arrest.
–Horses can make traffic stops and pedestrian stops.

–Horses offer their riders a visual advantage.  Riders are literally 10 feet tall and can see what’s going on in a crowd while officers on foot can only see the people immediately around them.   For the same reason, and officer on horseback has an advantage when she needs to direct traffic. Later in the meeting, Inspector Waite stated that by her observation, one horse and rider can do the work of as many as 12 officers on foot–they are that effective with crowds.
–Horses are great community relations ambassadors: people who walk away from officers on foot or in a squad, will stay and even come closer. Officer Fischer mentioned that she’s used horses to bring kids into a helpful situation, citing a group of several young teens on skateboards (looking for something to do).  She asked them to help the horses get used to the sound of boards on pavement.  The youth boarded past and then around the animals to help them become accustomed to the noise (which the horses must do) and the kids felt good about helping the horses.  This year the patrol offered an urban trail ride which was very well received and will likely be repeated–horse lovers, watch for it!.

What horses do they want, and how do they get them:

The patrol is looking for geldings and mares, at least 15.3 hands high, with good conformation, calm & friendly to people and to other horses, and with good trailer habits. Sgt. Fischer prefers draft horses and crosses because they are quite happy to stand around all day, which hunters or jumpers wouldn’t like.   Right now the animals average about 16.1-16.2 hands (about 5’5″ at the withers–the base of the neck) All horse candidates get a very thorough vet check and are on trial for 60-90 days.  (An exception: one horse who couldn’t settle in just got rejected after a 2 year trial.)

Horse training:  The challenge is that horses are herd animals whose instinct is to flee danger rather than fighting.  What patrol animals are asked to do is absolutely not natural.  Horses must be desensitized to urban life: trash blowing, wheelchairs, yelling crowds, skateboards(!), sirens, fireworks, the light rail, loud music and flashing lights, the tazer noise, gunfire (sometimes from the saddle), and working in dark alleys with many moving shadows.  Special training:  The mounted patrol trains together with the riot control officers, who might otherwise perceive each other as a threat.  More special training: they learn to handle urban terrain which can be unstable; special gear includes horse-size teeter-totters.  Fun training includes playing soccer with a 5′ diameter ball.

Question: protection from riots:  1) tear gas does not bother horses.  2) Horse riot gear includes clear, hard plastic masks to protect their eyes from thrown rocks and bottles.  A picture of the mounted patrol at the St. Paul Republican convention showed that animals in special boots which protect their feet so they could walk over the nails and broken glass that were thrown on the street to stop horse or human movement.

Shifts and time off:  The horses work in the city 6-7 times a month, but train at the Maple Plain facility several days every week.  They have Sunday and Monday off because they’re wanted in the city most Friday and Saturday nights.  A normal shift runs from 6PM to 4 or 5 AM for the human who spends an hour in the barn getting ready, brings the animal into the city, tacks the horse, works the shift, returns the horse to Maple Plain, and cleans the tack at the end of the shift; then she can drive home.  The patrol riding season is May through the end of December.  January through April is spent on more special training, but it’s also time for horses to just be horses.

Fund raising:  The city pays for all things necessary to support the patrol, but fund raisers as by the MP Foundation pays for extras like software upgrades, new saddle pads, and so on.
FFI: links to lots of info and cool pictures:
STATE OF THE PRECINCT:  Inspector Waite reported that theft of catalytic  converters is again rising.  There is no hot spot, but most of these thefts are in Northeast.  There is also a scattering of theft from motor vehicles — no hot spots there, either.

Officers are preparing for school vacations: U of MN is out 3/14 – 3/18; Mpls Public Schools are on break  from  March 28 through April 1.   It’s also time to prepare for the U of MN Spring Jam at the end of April.

NO COURT WATCH IN MARCH.  It will return in April.
February minutes were approved.  Apologies for the agenda printoffs were accepted.

NEW BUSINESS:  the Second Precinct open house is May 16, the THIRD Monday of the month.  The first signup sheet was sent around.  Emilie is will get a list of  jobs available, so if you are interested in handing out burgers or baklava, you can sign up for an hour shift early.  Set up starts around 2:30 and clean up is ongoing but we start packing away about 8PM.  I’ll post a firm timeline when I get one from the people who direct this event.
Coming up:
April PAC will focus on trafficing
May is Open House at the Precinct
Future PAC topics include our award winning MPRB, traffic control and traffic laws enforcement, Minneapolis Regulatory Services, and more……

Emilie note:  If you have a traffic law enforcement concern that you can track, please let me know OFFLIST. I’ll pass them along to the officers who will be speaking  on traffic issues so they know what our concerns are.  Complaints that start with “This morning at 9AM  I counted…” are good.   Complaints that start with “I think” probably can’t be addressed.


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