MPD’s biggest officers are getting a new station next year.

Cops trot out horses for a number of reasons. Some concern policing, others PR.

The sheer size of the three-quarter-ton draft horses makes them a superior crowd control tool, rating above bikes, squad cars and Segways at maneuvering through masses. Horses easily surpass all three in admiration by the public as well, as social media selfies show. The feeling is mutual. “The horses are great. They stand there and love the attention,” says Sgt. Logan Jeffery, head of the MPD mounted patrol unit.

So valued is the unit’s role as unofficial MPD ambassadors that it is at the center of a $5.6 million investment in Bay View called MKE Urban Stables. The complex is intended to be a space where the public, particularly children, can interact with police outside of crisis situations. An equine therapy nonprofit will share the space with the MPD horses.

“There’s a really unique connection between the police officers and also this placement of horses who help people that have suffered physical or emotional trauma. Many of them are children,” says Kent Lovern, chief deputy district attorney and stable project co-chair.

MKE Urban Stables will become the first permanent home for Mounted Patrol horses inside the city. For most of its 20-year history, the horses were kept outside of Milwaukee, a practice that ended with the move into a temporary home at 228 E. National Ave. — until MKE Urban Stables opens in January 2020.

Also changing is how the horses are cared for. Once outsourced to civilians, the responsibility now belongs to Mounted Patrol officers alone, who must clean, water and feed the 11 MPD horses every day. Jeffery is searching for a 12th horse to join the patrol, looking at older animals retired by carriage companies or Amish farms. These are not six-figure thoroughbreds; the horses typically cost a couple thousand dollars. The department has set up a charity, MKE Mounted Patrol Foundation, to help cover stable and other costs. “Nothing in the horse world is cheap,” Jeffery says.

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Horses remain with the department as long as they can work, which can be the rest of their lives. Because MPD horses arrive mature, they require little training, save one exception: They are spooked by the city. “We have to train them or get them used to how the city is,” Jeffery says. “Things like bike racks, cars, even a plastic bag flying by – if they’ve never seen it before, they have to get used to it.” But even the most skittish animals develop a hard-boiled urban sensibility within a few weeks.

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That thing they do

MPD’s mounted officers are trained never to climb down and give up the safety of the saddle, except for emergencies. Those include both the safety and bathroom variety. Mounted officers are tasked with picking up the horses’ solid waste. They try to dispose of the poop nearby, but sometimes resort to stashing bags somewhere until they can be retrieved by a squad car.

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“Horse Force” appears in the June 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning June 3, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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