Getting back on the horse

When May­or John F. Street and Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Sylvester John­son shut down the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment’s moun­ted patrol in 2004, the unit was get­ting $190,000 in an­nu­al fund­ing from the city.

The powers-that-were blamed the city’s pro­jec­ted $200 mil­lion-plus op­er­at­ing budget de­fi­cit that year for cut­ting the 115-year-old horse­back po­lice unit.

Sev­en years later, a new po­lice com­mis­sion­er, Charles Ram­sey, is un­flinch­ingly pro-horse and try­ing to pool the re­sources to start a new moun­ted patrol. He fig­ures it’ll cost around $2.5 mil­lion to get the job done.

With large-scale moun­ted op­er­a­tions at least sev­er­al months away, the unit got a siz­able boost on Ju­ly 27 when at­tor­ney Jimmy Binns’ Cop Wheels Pro­gram donated a pair of $15,000 horse trail­ers, thereby trip­ling the unit’s trail­er fleet.

Dur­ing the ded­ic­a­tion event, Cop Wheels also gave two new off-road mo­tor­cycles to the po­lice de­part­ment. The cus­tom­ized bikes, each cost­ing $8,500, will be al­loc­ated to the 19th dis­trict in West Phil­adelphia. Two old bikes from the 19th will be re­dis­trib­uted to oth­er units.


“Be­fore today, I only had one horse trail­er and el­ev­en horses, so I just in­creased my abil­ity to de­ploy by three-fold,” said Lt. Dan Mc­Cann, com­mand­er of the re­con­sti­t­uted moun­ted patrol.

“We now have the mak­ings of a real hon­est-to-good­ness moun­ted patrol unit once again,” Binns said.

After ar­riv­ing in Phil­adelphia in Janu­ary 2008, Ram­sey wasted little time in de­clar­ing his in­tent to bring back the moun­ted unit, just as he had done in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where he pre­vi­ously had served as po­lice com­mis­sion­er. Phil­adelphia’s ori­gin­al moun­ted patrol began in 1889 and was a func­tion of the Fair­mount Park po­lice un­til 1972, when the city po­lice de­part­ment ad­op­ted the unit.

Ad­voc­ates for the unit say that moun­ted of­ficers are ef­fect­ive in con­trolling large crowds of people of­ten seen at pub­lic fest­ivals, sport­ing events, polit­ic­al demon­stra­tions or oth­er events. Aside from the phys­ic­al pres­ence of a 1,100-pound beast, horses provide of­ficers with a birds-eye view of activ­ity.

Fur­ther, horses provide bet­ter ac­cess to re­mote areas of the city’s massive Fair­mount Park sys­tem than patrol cars or bi­cycles and are gen­er­ally great am­bas­sad­ors for the de­part­ment.

“When we have crowd con­trol, we can prob­ably do it by just show­ing up,” Mc­Cann said. “An of­ficer on a mount is like ten of­ficers on the ground.” 


Non­ethe­less, Ram­sey’s ini­tial ef­fort stalled.

“We got in­to it maybe a month or two, and the budget crisis hit,” Mc­Cann said. “We had to sus­pend it. (Then) we got the found­a­tion in­volved.”

Last Novem­ber, Ram­sey an­nounced a part­ner­ship with the de­part­ment and the in­de­pend­ent, non-profit Phil­adelphia Po­lice Found­a­tion to so­li­cit out­side fund­ing for the start-up. In­form­a­tion about the found­a­tion, in­clud­ing a dona­tion form, is avail­able at www.philly­po­lice­found­a­

Among the many tasks in­volved in re-launch­ing the unit, ac­quir­ing horses has been among the smoothest.

In Janu­ary, the Ne­wark, N.J., po­lice force shut down its moun­ted patrol and donated four steeds to Phil­adelphia. Later, a res­cue or­gan­iz­a­tion in Quaker­town donated three more. Sub­sequently, the city bought four ad­di­tion­al horses from a farm in Mary­land, but it has yet to take pos­ses­sion of those.

When the unit shut down in 2004, it had 19 horses. While the of­fi­cial jus­ti­fic­a­tion for dis­band­ing it was budget­ary, many have spec­u­lated oth­er mo­tiv­a­tions.

John Ti­money, who was po­lice com­mis­sion­er from 1998 to 2003, was a strong ad­voc­ate for bi­cycle patrols in crowd con­trol situ­ations. In fact, he per­son­ally rode a bi­cycle around town dur­ing the 2000 Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion here.

John­son served as Ti­money’s second-in-com­mand dur­ing this ex­pan­sion of bi­cycle squads.


Around the same time, the old moun­ted patrol was en­dur­ing a lit­any of in-house scan­dals. In 2002, three of­ficers from the unit and an em­ployed ci­vil­ian were in­dicted for billing the unit for per­son­al pur­chases total­ing about $19,000. Two de­fend­ants pleaded guilty, and a fed­er­al jury con­victed two oth­ers.

In 2003, one mem­ber of the unit was con­victed of mo­lest­ing a 13-year-old girl re­peatedly, in­clud­ing at least once while in uni­form.

In re­sponse, the po­lice de­part­ment cleaned house. Mc­Cann was ap­poin­ted the new com­mand­er in 2003, but his ten­ure only las­ted un­til the fol­low­ing year’s shut­down.

The lieu­ten­ant hopes to round up 25 or more horses for the re­or­gan­ized unit. Some may be thor­ough­breds. Oth­ers will be stand­ard­breds and cross­breeds. Many will have pri­or po­lice ex­per­i­ence, but that’s not re­quired.

“Every­body has their opin­ion of what the best horse should be, but they all have their own per­son­al­it­ies,” Mc­Cann said. “Just like people, we’ll take them out and get them in shape.”


Like­wise, pri­or ex­per­i­ence with horses is not a pre­requis­ite for of­ficers as­signed to the unit. Most im­port­ant to Mc­Cann is that new mem­bers are highly re­spec­ted and mo­tiv­ated of­ficers.

“I in­ter­viewed guys (and wo­men) who are good cops and hard char­gers out there mak­ing ar­rests. I fig­ure I can train them to be moun­ted of­ficers, so let’s get good cops,” Mc­Cann said.

Of­ficers Lee Can­nady and Mar­quise Robin­son were among the first ap­pointees. Both ride former Ne­wark horses. Can­nady’s is named Tim in hon­or of slain Sgt. Tim Simpson, while Robin­son’s is named Steve in memory of slain Sgt. Steve Liczb­in­ski.

Can­nady has a long per­son­al his­tory with horses.

“I’ve been rid­ing all my life,” he said.

Much of his rid­ing ex­per­i­ence has been with the Fletch­er Street Urb­an Rid­ing Club in Straw­berry Man­sion, a non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion that in­tro­duces in­ner-city youths to rid­ing. Mem­bers of the club of­ten ride throughout Fair­mount Park, in­clud­ing the area around Bel­mont Plat­eau.

For the of­ficer or the horse, however, frol­ick­ing in the park is noth­ing like do­ing po­lice work on a horse.


“You have to get ac­climated to stuff like this — the crowd,” Can­nady said dur­ing the trail­er-dona­tion ce­re­mony in front of the steps of the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art. “You want them to get used to loud bangs and stuff.”

Though Steve and Tim already are 14 and 17 years old, re­spect­ively, they should have many good years of ser­vice ahead of them. They could work un­til age 25 or 30, Can­nady said.

“As long as you keep them young and mov­ing, they’ll be pretty good,” he said.

The biggest chal­lenge for the unit so far has been find­ing a place to set up shop. The unit’s of­fi­cial headquar­ters is at the Po­lice Academy on State Road in the North­east, but the horses are kept at a stable in Am­bler while the po­lice de­part­ment looks for a per­man­ent home with­in the city.

Be­fore 2004, the moun­ted patrol op­er­ated out of stables and of­fices on Krewstown Road, south of Grant Av­en­ue, in Pennypack Park. After the city dis­mantled the unit, it es­sen­tially gut­ted the stables, leav­ing them in no con­di­tion for po­lice op­er­a­tions. Now, the De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation oc­cu­pies the site.

At first, build­ing a new stable and headquar­ters for the unit was con­sidered. But that op­tion has been deemed too costly. Re­cently, the de­part­ment learned of a private stable that may be­come avail­able in the Fox Chase area, al­though no site had been se­lec­ted as the Times went to press.

In the mean­time, of­ficers must travel to Am­bler to train. The horses must be brought by trail­er to the city for de­ploy­ment.


An­oth­er big start-up cost is equip­ping the unit with prop­er gear. On­go­ing ex­penses in­clude feed, veter­in­ary care and sup­plies. The plan is to use out­side fund­ing to get the unit op­er­a­tion­al. Then, after a couple of years, the city will as­sume op­er­at­ing costs.

“When we get to a point where our stables and headquar­ters are to­geth­er, we’re go­ing to do daily patrols,” Mc­Cann said.

Be­sides the parks, horses could be de­ployed to busy shop­ping dis­tricts like Cottman and Frank­ford av­en­ues or 52nd and Mar­ket Streets, as well as night­life cen­ters such as South Street or Delaware Av­en­ue. Horses could also be sent in­to high-crime neigh­bor­hoods where of­ficers will try to de­vel­op a rap­port with the loc­als.

“That will go a long way help­ing de­tect­ives gath­er in­tel­li­gence,” Mc­Cann said.

Not every­body is bullish on the idea of a new moun­ted patrol, however.

After Ram­sey an­nounced his in­ten­tion to re­build the unit, an­im­al rights act­iv­ists star­ted an In­ter­net-based pe­ti­tion against the plan. A group identi­fy­ing it­self as An­im­al ACT­iv­ists of Philly col­lec­ted 785 “sig­na­tures” via an elec­tron­ic form on be­fore the pe­ti­tion ex­pired three months ago.

The pe­ti­tion called the moun­ted unit plan in­hu­mane, too costly and tac­tic­ally ir­ra­tion­al. The text of the pe­ti­tion provided no fac­tu­al evid­ence or ex­pert opin­ion to sup­port its po­s­i­tion.

A page cre­ated by the act­iv­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion on claims it has 153 mem­bers, in­clud­ing 10 or­gan­izers or lead­ers. Among those sign­ing the pe­ti­tion were those identi­fy­ing them­selves as res­id­ents of Flor­ida, New York state, Wash­ing­ton state, Nevada, Ohio, Louisi­ana, Ore­gon and Trin­id­ad and To­bago.

Out­side of the on­line protest, however, there has been little op­pos­i­tion to the pro­gram.

“There’s nobody who doesn’t like a horse and no crim­in­al who isn’t afraid of one,” Binns said. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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