ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Three new members of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department will start working the beat later this summer. These rookies weigh over 1,500 pounds and can do 25 mph on foot.
Three new horses — Hank, Hugo and Hondo — were bred and trained at Kentucky’s Asbury University. They arrived at the end of April and are expected to join the nine other horses already on patrol in the Mounted Unit later this summer, Lt. Scott Swem said.
The Mounted Unit includes 15 full-time county personnel and 10 fully-trained volunteers providing law enforcement and safety detail at events in Grand Rapids and Kent County. The sheriff’s department is also now working with the Grand Rapids Police Department, which provides four more officers.
“We’re expanding, so when we started out several years ago, we did three or four events in the summer. Now it’s constant — we’re out every weekend,” Swem said.
You’ll see the Mounted Patrol at events like parades and festivals. They are often on patrol at Millennium Park in Walker and in Grand Rapids’ Arena District to keep control of the after-bar crowd.
Atop 4-year-old Hank, Sgt. Eric Rakow has a 10-foot high vantage point.
“We can see over the crowd and we can see people causing disturbances. Where if we’re on foot, we can only see through the crowd — we might miss something,” Rakow said.
In addition to the police work, the horses also give the officers a chance to interact with people who might not normally approach an officer but are drawn to the sight of a horse.
“A lot of the community relations is really amazing,” Rakow said.
Training for the full-time Mounted Unit officers includes an 80-hour riding academy and 10 hours per month of continuing training at the 20,000-square-foot indoor equestrian training center in Rockford.
“It does take a lot of dedication, a lot of training to get to the point where you can ride on a Mounted Unit. It takes a lot of hard work,” Rakow said.
The unit has been expanded and improved thanks to an endowment by Peter Secchia and family of more than $500,000.
The equestrian training center sits is on 30 acres of land in Rockford donated from the Kent County Parks Department. The unit moved there about seven years ago.
“The facility is all done with private donations. There’s no government money in this facility at all,” Swem said.
Volunteers care for the horses, have built the stables and even cut the grass. Jail inmates do some of the work as well.
“We also let the community use the facility, we have 4-H groups that come up here, equestrian teams from the high schools that come up here and use our facility, so we’re giving the facility back to the community to use,” Swem said.