Unbeknownst to some in Douglas County, there is a special type of deputy in the ranks at the sheriff's office. It's one with a long, soft nose, giant ears and four clomping hooves: It's a horse …
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Unbeknownst to some in Douglas County, there is a special type of deputy in the ranks at the sheriff's office. It's one with a long, soft nose, giant ears and four clomping hooves: It's a horse deputy.
These horses, just like their owners, are sworn in and given badges following extensive training, teaching them the latest techniques and procedures. And if a civilian decides to strike either one of them, it's a felony.
These animals and their riders make up the Douglas County Sheriff's Office mounted patrol unit.
While the deputies are trained in search and rescue and crowd control tactics, their main duties include attending special events like parades and interacting with the public.
The mounted patrol is made up of seven deputies, the largest group since the unit began in 2006, said Lt. Robert Rotherham, the commander of the unit. Each deputy is only a mounted deputy part of the time. Outside of that they have regular duties in units such as patrol, investigative or detentions.
Before a new deputy can join, they must first own a horse and pass a training ride to test for their animal's disposition.
“We ride through a King Soopers parking lot,” Rotherham said. “If the horse is flighty, no way he's ever going to be on a team.”
If the horse passes, it will attend a week-long training made up of obstacles, crowd control simulations and more before beginning duties.
Every month after, the horses undergo additional training around the county. In the past these exercises have included traffic control at a high school, patrolling areas with increased vandalism and mountain patrol rides.
Multiple times per year, the unit puts on their specialized cowboy hats and uniforms and attends special events like the Parker Christmas carriage parade, The National Western Parade on Jan. 9 and the July 4 parade in Highlands Ranch. The biggest event of the year is the Douglas County Fair and Rodeo in August.
“Over the years, the team has really expanded its events,” Rotherham said.
Duties outside of parades
Occasionally, the mounted patrol unit will get a search and rescue call about a missing hiker or child in the backcountry. That's when they head out on horseback to search through terrain that ATVs can't reach.
The unit has also used crowd control techniques during the 2008 Democratic National Convention when Barack Obama accepted the democratic nomination. This is when it's convenient to be a “10-foot cop,” Rotherham said.
“A deputy on a horse is a lot taller than a deputy on the ground,” he said. “One mounted deputy is equal to 10 deputies on the ground.”
On the horses, it's much easier to push through a crowd or split up clashing protesters, he said. This skill isn't needed much in their regular duties, however.
“We don't have a lot of the big protests in Douglas County,” Rotherham said.
Mostly, the horses help foster a positive relationship with the community.
“Everybody likes animals,” he said.
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