When the Iowa State Fair opens next week, not all of the animals will be on display or in competition — some will be working. The Des Moines Police mounted patrol is one of the last of its kind in Iowa. When Officer Mandy Weltz isn’t in a squad car, she’s atop Tank, a quarter-horse that used to work for the police department in Dallas, Texas.
“Horses are very good for crowd control because of the vantage point of being up nine feet in the air,” Weltz says. “Most people will actually move for a horse that’s coming through a crowd. If they don’t, we can push a crowd pretty easily with a horse.”
The Des Moines horse unit remains active, as other agencies are cutting. Waterloo disbanded its mounted patrol two years ago. Des Moines Police Chief Judy Bradshaw has saddled up with her patrol and remains its biggest advocate.
Chief Bradshaw says, “From a PR standpoint, I think it’s been an incredible program because animals are friendly for the most part, they draw kids and people feel like you’re approachable then, where they might be intimidated by the uniform otherwise.” The officers own their own horses and are responsible for boarding and upkeep.
The city pays them for their time on horse patrol and also provides a trailer and buys special riding gear through a grant. Sergeant Debbie Richardson got her first horse in fifth grade and helped start the patrol in Iowa’s capitol city.
“Horses always draw kids and adults,” Richardson says. “You’d be surprised how many people have never touched a horse or seen a horse up close.” Kelly Stuhr, a vice and narcotics officer, trained at the state fair this week with Sunny, an eight-year-old Appaloosa.
“Similar things to city streets out here at the fairgrounds but we’re able to train them moving from sidewalks, to the paint lines on the street, things you wouldn’t think a horse might spook at but they will, street signs,” Stuhr says. “Obviously, a lot of noises out here, different noises, equipment, things like that.”
The six-horse patrol will focus on keeping the peace around the perimeter of the Iowa State Fair, which runs August 9-19th.