Mount up! Sheriff’s unit seeks equestrians

Look for Oakland County Sheriff’s Mounted Deputy Stephanie Lee, of Lakeville, and her horse Hank Williams at county parks and special events this summer. Photo by CJC.
Look for Oakland County Sheriff’s Mounted Deputy Stephanie Lee, of Lakeville, and her horse Hank Williams at county parks and special events this summer. Photo by CJC.

Folks who own horses, know how to ride them and have a desire to serve and protect the public are invited to submit an application to join the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Unit.
The unit is currently staffed with 20 deputies, but Sheriff’s Lt. Kelly Sexton, commander of the parks unit, would like to see that number increase to 30.
“These people love to ride and they love to serve their communities while riding,” she said. “It’s actually a great combination. We have several riders that have been (with) the unit 20 years.”
The mounted unit is attached to Sexton’s unit because one of its responsibilities is patrolling county parks.
It also patrols the Paint Creek Trail (an 8.9-mile path that runs through five communities from Lake Orion to Rochester), provides crowd control, works special events (such as parades, festivals, fireworks displays and meet-and-greet events) and participates in search-and-rescue operations for missing persons when needed.
Last year, mounted deputies worked more than 600 hours patrolling county parks, spent 430 hours on the Paint Creek Trail and logged 550 hours at special events, including  the Woodward Dream Cruise, Festival of the Hills in Rochester Hills and various parades, such as Oxford’s Lone Ranger Parade in August, according to Sexton.
Mounted unit deputies are paid $16.88 per hour and do not receive any benefits.
“They don’t do it for the money,” noted Sexton, a 1982 Oxford High graduate who spent four years on the school’s equestrian team. “They do it because they love to ride and there’s a personal satisfaction (that comes with) being part of an elite police unit.”
“I would encourage people to do it. It’s totally worth (it),” said Lakeville resident Stephanie Lee, 27, who became a mounted deputy this year with Hank Williams, her 12-year-old Quarter Horse. “It changes your life. The people you meet are incredible. Our team is top-notch . . . You have a lot of people that have a lot of knowledge in different areas, whether (it’s) law enforcement or just horses in general. Being a new person, getting to soak up all that knowledge from everyone is so beneficial.”
“I look forward to being on the unit, hopefully, for many years to come,” she noted.
The mounted unit is active year round, but its peak season runs from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October. Availability on weekends and holidays during the peak season is required of members.
Applicants for the mounted unit must own a horse, tow vehicle and horse trailer that meet the agency’s safety standards. They must pass a background investigation, an oral interview and a riding evaluation where both the horse and rider must be able to complete a list of minimum performance requirements. These requirements include being able to walk, trot, canter, side pass, turn on the haunches and the forehand, and successfully navigate various obstacles.
Sexton indicated “we accept all breeds (of horses) as long as they” can do the aforementioned things.
Riders must be able to maintain control of their horse despite smoke, fire, flares, crowds, fireworks and gunfire.
After successfully completing the aforementioned requirements, applicants are sent to the Oakland Basic Reserve Police Academy to complete a 16-week course that meets twice a week on Wednesdays (6-10 p.m.) and Saturdays (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The sheriff’s office pays for the course, according to Sexton.
Lee found attending the academy to be a real eye-opener.
“I look at things a lot differently now,” she said.
For example, despite the numerous “negative” portrayals of the law enforcement community and its use of force via the mainstream media and social media, Lee said there was a great emphasis at the academy on teaching officers techniques for de-escalating situations peacefully through words.
She feels she now has a much better understanding of how and why police officers do the things they do and the various approaches they take when dealing with situations.
“I think being in law enforcement is a thankless job,” Lee noted. “It takes a special type of person to be able to do that.”
After graduating from the academy, deputies are required to participate in various forms of on-going training and maintain their horses “in such a manner that (they’re) presentable because (they) represent the sheriff’s office,” Sexton said.
“(The horse) needs to be groomed and cleaned and shod and made attractive,” she said.
Police officers doing their job on horseback is a tradition that dates back to 1758. The first recorded mounted force is the London Bow Street Horse Patrol in England.
In the United States, mounted police were introduced in the early 1870s when departments in Boston and New York City hired officers and created units.
Being on horseback has definite advantages, according to Sexton.
One is visibility. The added height of being atop a horse affords officers a much wider range of vision, which helps them spot everything from lost children to criminal activity.
“Being elevated above everything (else) gives the deputy a vantage point that they don’t get in a patrol car or on a bicycle or in a golf cart,” Sexton said.
Another advantage is access.
“When you’re on a horse, you can get to places that police cars can’t get to,” Sexton said.
When it comes to controlling a crowd, nothing handles the situation like a group of mounted officers.
“When you get a line of a dozen horses coming at (a crowd), people are going to move out of the way,” Sexton said.
Mounted units also help build positive community relations for law enforcement agencies. Officers on horseback are often considered by the public to be more approachable because the duo is seen as a novelty in the age of the automobile.
“They love the horses. It’s something they don’t get to see that often,” Sexton said. “They’re thrilled when they are allowed to pet them and talk to the deputies.”
Lee understands some folks might not feel comfortable applying for the mounted unit because they’re not sure if they’re up to the challenge or if they have the necessary skills.
But she wants to assure them, they won’t be alone. They’ll be constantly surrounded by “supportive,” helpful people who “will get you there.”
“If you’re not 100-percent comfortable  with the situation right now, you will be by the time everything’s said and done,” Lee promised.
To learn more about the sheriff’s Mounted Unit, please contact Lt. Kelly Sexton by calling (248) 858-1597 or sending an email to sextonk@oakgov.com.

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