KENT COUNTY, Mich. – This summer, keep your eyes out for the three newest members of the Kent County’s Mounted Unit: Hank, Hugo and Hondo.
The alliterated trio joined the force back in April – the newest additions to an elite group meant to protect and inspire communication between police and the community.
“We don’t have two horses alike up here, they’re all completely different personalities,” said Lt. Scott Swem with the mounted unit. “We use them for crowd control in the city of GR mainly. We’ll go down and work the bar district on the weekends in the summer, we work the festivals, we work Fourth of July.”
Now bringing the total number of horses in the unit to 12, Hank, Hugo and Hondo were all trained at Asbury University Equine Center in Lexington, Kentucky. After discovering the training center some years ago, it’s a purchase the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has been wanting to make for a while, finally able to do it with the help of endowments and donations.
The mounted unit itself consists of the 12 horses, and 15 Kent County deputies, four Grand Rapids Police officers, and ten volunteers from the Traffic Squad. All of the personnel receive 80 hours of initial training, an additional 10 hours of training monthly, and handle their responsibilities as mounted officers secondary to their main assignments.
“It is time consuming,” said Lt. Swem. “You can’t just jump on a horse like you can in a car and go. It’s like anything else with the horse. You build a bond. So every officer’s got a horse that they like, that they feel comfortable with, that they tend to want to take out when they go.”
Atop the horses, mounted officers have a superb vantage point Lt. Swem says you simply can’t get on foot patrol or in a police vehicle. Allowing them to see over crowds and be more mobile, the safety benefits far outweigh the cost.
At Asbury, horses receive training specifically for future service.
“They should be able to handle almost anything you throw at them,” said Holly Roe, a trainer at Asbury. “Carrying a rider, to being able to handle things such as smoke bombs or road flares.”
While the highly trained animals provide a level of comfort for officers and the public, there’s a deeper purpose to their job. Let’s face it – who isn’t captivated by horses? The department has tried to use that sentiment to build relations with those they’re protecting.
“The horse is that great bond between us,” said Lt. Swem. “Everybody wants to come see the horse, but to see the horse they’ve got to see me too. So we can interact; we can be human and not just this intimidating figure.”
“I know one thing that brings a lot of our trainers joy is seeing their horse that they trained out on the streets with their officers,” said Roe, “and seeing the joy it brings to other people on the streets is really heartwarming for us.”