Mounted police team patrols downtown events, talks with community members

Saturday, September 15, 2012 | 8:30 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — At 2 p.m. on game day, the Columbia Police Department's Mounted Patrol Team saddled up their horses, Molly, Bo, Tigger and Maverick, to prepare for tailgate patrol. With helmets on and reins in hand, the four-member police team scanned the crowds on horseback and talked to people in the community.

"It's the best job ever," said Capt. Dianne Bernhard. "People's faces just light up when they get the chance to pet the horses."

A few months ago, she set up a CPD Mounted Police Facebook page, where the team displays photos of children, students and families at the tailgate from the horse rider's perspective.

Sgt. Joe Bernhard, Officer Kim German and Detective Bob Dochler are the other members of the mounted police. Among the four of them, the officers snap about 100 pictures on their iPhones during the 4-to-5-hour patrol, then put the best ones up on the site.

"We like to frame it between the horse's ears or off to the side, so you can see both the horse and the person," said Sgt. Joe Bernhard. "We ride around and talk to everybody, especially the kids that are so curious about the horses."

The police department's mounted police team was created in 2005. Other cities in the area, including Kansas City and St. Louis, have similar mounted police teams.

In addition to tailgating, the mounted police patrol events downtown and in Douglass Park, neighborhood association meetings and festivals like the upcoming Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ. 

"It's a good way to be approachable to the community and allows us to see over the crowds if there's trouble," Joe Bernhard said.

A key advantage to patrolling on horseback is that officers can see much farther than they can on foot or in a car. 

"Three or four years ago, we had a church group from Kansas down here protesting," Bernhard said. "There was a counterprotester throwing eggs, and he was hiding behind the front of the crowd. Because I was on horseback, I was able to spot him and direct officers to him."

Joe Bernhard always rides Tigger, a brown 10-year-old quarter horse. Photos of each of the horses are available at the CPD Mounted Police Facebook page.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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