By Jonathan Farrell
The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) had something to celebrate during the holiday season as two new horses were sworn in as part of the SFPD Mounted Patrol Unit on Dec. 14.
The swearing-in of Gus and Duke took place at the Fred C. Egan Police Stables in Golden Gate Park, located on the north side of the Polo Field and is adjacent to The Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club located at 1232 John F. Kennedy Dr.
“This occasion marks a new beginning for these majestic animals as well as an end to the exhaustive search which took more than a year,” said Assistant Chief of Police David Lazar.
With more than 1,000 acres of dedicated park space of Golden Gate Park to cover, the use of horses is ideal, especially when dealing with crowds.
This, according to those who work in equestrian police patrol departments, is crucial. It is part of the reason why the search was extensive and exhaustive. Mounted Unit officers offer an increased level of visibility and a unique vantage point in a crowd.
An eligible horse candidate for the Mounted Unit must be accustomed to people.
“Gus and Duke are working out very well,” said Wendell Jones, an officer with the Mounted Unit.
Among other qualifications, SFPD policy requires that horses shall be extremely well trained and gentle, along with being of sound mind and in top physical condition.
A Mounted Unit police horse must not be frightened by crowds or boisterous activity. This is a process that weeds out more than 99% of potential candidate horses and makes finding suitable horses exceptionally difficult.
Police horse candidates also go through a trial where they are exposed to all environments within San Francisco and receive a thorough medical examination prior to being selected.
While SFPD has had its Mounted Patrol Unit continuously since 1864 – the second-longest stint in America after New York City – use of an urban police patrol on horseback goes back to the 1700s in England.
In addition to a horse’s ability to move about in places where vehicles cannot, some mounted patrol units, like the one in adjacent San Mateo County, are used in search and rescue operations.
“The officers on horseback and their steeds are some of our department’s best ambassadors,” said Lazar.
The Mounted Unit supplements patrols all over the City and can often be spotted in other areas besides Golden Gate Park, including The Embarcadero, Marina Green, Palace of Fine Arts, China Basin, McLaren Park, Castro Street, Japantown, Union Square, Pier 39 and more.
With so many events held in Golden Gate Park during the year, their equestrian abilities make patrolling more efficient. The SFPD Mounted Unit is also present for every big parade.
“Gus and Duke are amazing,” Jones said. “Hopefully, they will be around for a while.”
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