The hooved officers of the KCPD are a friendly face to the community
Normally, the public doesn’t interact with a Kansas City Police Department squad car as it patrols down a neighborhood street. Add a horse to the officer’s patrol and the dynamic instantly changes to the benefit of all.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the formation of the Mounted Patrol section, a specialized unit of the Kansas City Police Department. Led by Sergeant Joey Roberts, a 19-year veteran in the department, the patrol consists of eight officers and eight horses. Coincidentally, most of those officers live in the Northland but work throughout the city. Unless the weather is excessively hot or cold, or road conditions are unsafe in winter, the unit operates full-time on a year-round basis to police the community and provide crowd control. Perhaps most importantly, the Mounted Patrol fosters goodwill as ambassadors for the police department, particularly in high-crime areas.
“The Mounted Patrol is a catalyst for bridging gaps with the community,” says Sgt. Roberts. “Kids love seeing the horses and flag us down to come over. The kids know the horses by name.”
The unit rotates its community policing patrols in different neighborhoods in the city and suburbs. During patrols, officers address calls for service and promote youth outreach as part of its public relations. The unit is present for large crowded events such as Rockfest, the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and Mayor’s Night Out. The Mounted Patrol visits the Country Club Plaza every Saturday night from spring through fall.
On patrol, the sergeant rides Commander, a tall bay Holsteiner that was formerly a dressage horse. Commander was assigned to the unit in May 2008 after being donated by Jim and Terri Neese of Olathe, Kansas. It’s quite a sight when standing next to Sgt. Roberts riding Commander and towering above a street-level view.
Each horse stands at least 15.2 hands high, or more than five feet. As a unit of measurement, a hand equals four inches and is calculated from the hooves to the highest point of the withers, or the ridge between the horse’s shoulder blades. The horses weigh from 1,100 to 2,300 pounds and, accordingly, establish a formidable presence.
The presence of an officer and horse working in unison makes an impression, especially during events with large crowds. Sgt. Roberts says, “One officer on a horse equals ten to twelve officers on the ground.”
The intent of the mounted patrol is not intimidation but rather engagement as they serve the community. Given the heightened tension between police departments and the public in some areas of the nation, positive interaction on horseback is a powerful tool to build and reinforce trust.
The police department also sponsors a fall youth riding program as part of its outreach.
“We work with eight kids each season that have never ridden,” says Sgt. Roberts. “We teach them basic horsemanship.”
The program helps the Mounted Police connect to the public.
“The horses help humanize officers to the public,” says Roberts. “Otherwise, kids’ contact with law enforcement is minimal. They realize that we’re normal people that also have kids.”
Mounted Patrols through neighborhoods and highly visible areas of the city have the greatest impact and extend an implicit invitation to interact.
“When we go down the same street on a horse, people come out of their homes to talk to us and pet the horses. It closes that gap with the community,” says officer Jake Emig, who has served with the Kansas City Police Department since 2009, and has been with the Mounted Patrol since 2015.
Emig hails from east-central Missouri and grew up around horses since he was a child. His horse, O’Sullivan, or “Sully,” is a sorrel Paint/Quarterhorse that stands at 16.2 hands and formerly competed in extreme cowboy competitions. O’Sullivan is named after fallen officer John J. O’Sullivan, who was killed in the line of duty in December of 1978. Like many of the horses in the unit, Sully is patient with a calm temperament around other horses and humans. Each horse does have its own personality and behavior patterns.
The Mounted Patrol horses undergo training for sensitivity to aggravation and all manner of noises that would be encountered on patrol.
“They’re already broken and ready to ride when they arrive,” Emig says. “We expose them to anything and everything noise-wise – jackhammers, sirens, firecrackers – to desensitize them.”
The horses also learn to ride single-file, in two columns, and in a wheel formation. They are trained for vehicle extraction and how to safely push back crowds.
Emig chats with Sully as if they are best friends. The bond between the officers and the horses is tight-knit. Sully has developed a bit of fame through his Instagram account, @sullykcpd, where photographs are posted of his adventures and patrols throughout the city.
“Sully likes to keep his followers up to date,” says Emig. “We encounter a lot of people that didn’t know Kansas City had a Mounted Patrol unit.”
The officers in the mounted patrol, such as Dan Easley, Travis Hennegin, and Doug King, also treat each other like family. Each officer works with the same horse “for continuity.” All officers in the unit are responsible for the horses’ care that includes grooming, mucking stalls, feeding and other tasks. A farrier comes every six weeks to replace horseshoes.
The horses eat approximately 1,000 bales of hay in summer. The department pays for the hay, seed, and bedding. Other expenses are defrayed by a (501(c)3) nonprofit organization called the “Friends of the KC Mounted Patrol” that accepts tax-deductible donations. Donations help to purchase tack and equipment and allow the officers to attend training. The organization also has a Facebook page under the same name to promote awareness.
“Without the nonprofit, we probably wouldn’t exist,” says Roberts. “We’re trying to build our own facility and stable.”
Currently, the Mounted Patrol unit is based in stables at Lake of the Woods in Swope Park.
Emig acknowledges that “there are challenging days when the horses don’t behave, but we get them squared away.” Despite those “off” days, he loves to spend time with the horses.
Emig says, “I get to do exactly what I loved as a kid.”
Community-based policing in Kansas City gets a helping hand, and a few extra legs, from the popular Mounted Patrol unit. Next time they make an appearance, there’s no need to horse around. Get to know Commander, O’Sullivan, Buddy, Rookie, Guinness, Leader, Meyer, Dan the white horse, and the police officers that patrol and help protect the city.