(CBS) — If you’ve been to any of the major summer festivals or parades, you’ve likely seen members of the Chicago Police Department’s Mounted Unit in action.
The officers and their horses also patrol the Mag Mile, the Museum campus and some city parks year-round. They’re an amazing sight, but more than that.
CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports.
It may not look like police work to some, but these officers are on patrol, keeping an eye on things, issuing tickets and making arrests.
“It’s just a great feeling to see the look on that guy’s face when you ride up and grab him and lock him up,” Officer Marlon Harvey of the Chicago Police Department says.
You could say the mounted unit has some unique abilities for law enforcement.
“There’s no better way of moving a crowd than with a horse,” says Lt. Paul Bauer. “They don’t want to touch the horse, nor do they want the horse to step on them.”
And perched high in the air, the mounted patrol officers also have a better vantage point.
“We can see in the crowd the descriptions of the people and help pick out the person that’s wanted,” Officer Billy Cales says.
Their high position also makes it easier for people to see them. Chicago police say that visibility makes areas they patrol safer.
Tourist Chad Mickelson and his wife, who were worried about the crime in the city, agree.
“We were kind of asking a lot of questions on where to be, where not to be,” Mickelson says.
The officers say they’re proud to be ambassadors for the city, and more importantly their department — especially the fallen officers for whom their horses are named.
Officer Harvey introduced Martinez to his horse, Francis, named after Officer Richard Francis, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2008.
“It’s an honor. It’s a great honor because every time you mention it you’re actually bringing back the memory,” Harvey says.
That’s just one of the reasons the bond between the officers and their horses is so strong. Another is the innocence of the animal.
“Your horse actually has a trust in you, and that’s a great responsibility,” Harvey says.
That’s especially true when dealing with crowds which can be rowdy or hostile.
“It’s a combination of training the horse and rider because a horse is an instinctual animal,” head trainer Mike Clisham says. “Their natural instinct is to flee.”
But once that trust is established, the officers say the horses make incredible partners.
“I really appreciate the fact that I can work with him. He’s a great horse to be with,” Cales says.
Lt. Bauer says there are perks, too.
“You don’t have to buy them lunch. They don’t complain.”
There are currently 20 officers assigned to the Mounted Unit. Officers have to complete a 14-week training program to qualify.
It’s not easy, though, and only about 50 percent finish. As for the horses, there are 30 in the unit. It can take anywhere from one month to six months to train a horse for duty.