The Calgary Police Service mounted unit now numbers five after Police Service Horse Anzio received its badge during a ceremony this morning.
Anzio was named after the 1944 battle in which Canadian and Allied forces performed a daring amphibious landing into Italy to free that nation from Nazi and Italian fascist forces.
The naming of the new mounted unit member continued the police service tradition of honoring members of the Canadian Military by naming Police Service Horses after significant Canadian battles.
“During the battle, Canadian soldiers who served alongside US soldiers in the First Special Service Force fought tirelessly for four months,” said Calgary Police Service Inspector Gerry Francois.
“Over the past year of training, Anzio has shown a great deal of determination, loyalty and skill,” he said.
The police service began naming their horses after battles in 2016.
The mounted unit now has five horses, bringing the unit up from a low of four after two horses retired last year.
War horses in all but name
The Calgary Police Service has selected large, heavy horses for their mounted unit.
The breeds they have chosen include Percheron, Clydesdale, and Half-Belgian. All range from 1,500 lbs to over 2,000.
“They carry the substance and stature to be strong for the job, as well as all the gear that they wear,” said Robin Koltusky, equine training and facilities coordinator for the Calgary Police Service.
“We like to choose the ones that are typical war-horse-type mentalities—they just thrive on having a job, having a task, and being challenged,” she said.
Another key mental attribute that makes them warhorses is their relaxed mentality.
The police service has looked for horses that have a calm demeanor and then works to desensitize them to the types of situations they may be deployed to.
“There is a tremendous amount of confidence-building and desensitization training for them to get them comfortable in scenes that may turn chaotic,” said Koltusky.
Going beyond being a ceremonial unit
Over the past several years, the Calgary Police Service has worked to transform its mounted unit from a ceremonial role to an active part of the police service.
Beginning with the hiring of Koltusky, the mounted unit has begun performing patrols downtown and performing search and rescue operations.
“If we’re doing searches for lost or missing people, they can cover quite a bit of ground and they can go through some pretty rough terrain, and they’ve really been a tremendous resource to us in that regard,” said Insp. Francois.
The unit has also been training with the Vancouver Police Department for controlling crowds.
“Someone was telling me the other day—one of the veteran members—that a horse is worth 10 people when you’re when you’re trying to manage a crowd and trying to prevent two opposing sides from coming together,” he said.
“They’re very effective at moving people back, and let’s face it, they’re intimidating. So, they’re very effective in crowd management.”
The Calgary Police Service has seen a triple-digit percentage increase in the number of protests that have taken place in the city.
Chief Mark Neufeld said that these weekly and bi-weekly events have necessitated moving officers from their communities.
“At this particular time, we’ve got officers from around the city coming to police those things,” he said.
“The challenge as they come from around the city is that calls for service can stack up, and the service to the public who are waiting for the officers to come can be can be impacted.”
He said that the changing nature of policing necessitates engaging the public more, something for which the police service also envisions using the mounted unit.
Mounted unit to retain community outreach role
Chief Neufeld believes that the horses are a necessity in the city, and have a role beyond operational deployments.
“Calgary has a strong western heritage, is the third-largest municipal police service in the country, and the third-largest city in the country with lots of people coming from around the world,” he said.
“So to see the horses and see our members in cowboy hats, I think that’s a bit of the persona.”
Koltusky said that beyond the heritage aspect of having horses, the public tends to gravitate towards officers when they are riding as opposed to driving in a police cruiser.
“It plays a huge role in community policing by bridging the gap between citizens and police,” she said.
Retired police officer Jim Forde, who served in the Toronto police force’s mounted unit in the early 1970s echoed Koltusky’s sentiment.
“The number one thing is to interact with the communities to help them. And that can be difficult at times, but when you’re on a horse—everybody loves animals—people will come up to see you,” said Forde.
“They want to pet the horse, ask what’s your horse’s name, and so on. It’s actually a huge draw for the community to see a mounted member, or a group of them going through a community,” he said.
Forde attended the badge ceremony to bring back memories of his time serving in a mounted unit.
“I wanted to be here today because it takes me back many, many years to those joyous days. In particular, it is what stayed with me my entire police career,” he said.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, but particularly the mounted unit, the training, the camaraderie, and working with the animals. Just an amazing, amazing experience for me.”