The Charleston Police Department’s mounted patrol unit has returned for the first time in a decade to improve relations between police and citizens and prevent crime.
The City Council voted to reinstate the mounted unit in October 2021, nearly 10 years after it was disbanded due to budget concerns.
Officials say the return of the mounted patrols was made possible via a collaboration between Palmetto Carriage Works, the Charleston Downtown Alliance and Explore Charleston. Two horses, Watson and Holmes, were donated by Palmetto Carriage Works, which will house the animals at its Big Red Barn in downtown Charleston, and the organizations are helping to pay the full cost of their equipment and care for one year.
“We are so pleased to have the Mounted Patrol Unit making its return to Charleston,” Deputy Chief Dustin Thompson told WCSC News. “This would not have been possible without the support of Palmetto Carriage Works, Explore Charleston, Mayor Tecklenburg and Charleston City Council.”
Thompson said the main purpose of the police horses will be to further community engagement.
“The Mounted Patrol Unit will undoubtedly enhance our efforts in community relations and crime prevention. We look forward to the successes to come and hope to expand the unit to service even more parts of the City in the future,” he said.
Former carriage horses Watson and Holmes have now transitioned into police work. They are expected to work 10 hours a day, four days a week, patrolling popular tourist destinations and other busy areas in the city.
“We will be working a lot in the tourist and business district. Market, Upper King at night, during the day for any special community outreach events we will be doing,” CPD Sergeant William Gritzuk told Fox 28.
CPD has spent the past month and a half training the horses and their officers for duty. Their first assignment was on April 2 for the Cooper River Bridge Run, the third-largest 10K race in the U.S.
Explore Charleston CEO Helen Hill said the mounted patrols increase the visibility and presence of law enforcement.
“We are proud to partner with the City and other organizations to identify solutions to some of the business district’s persistent challenges, including safety. A point of emphasis is the increased presence and visibility of law enforcement. We’re excited to participate in this public-private partnership that reintroduces the mounted patrol for the betterment of our community and the benefit of residents and visitors alike,” Hill said.
While some critics argue that the mounted patrols are ineffective because their officers can’t make arrests or issue citations, Charleston Police say that they offer several unique advantages, such as better visibility, maneuverability and crowd management abilities compared to ground patrols or vehicles.
The main purpose, however, is building relationships.
“Not only is it good for our city — it’s a part of our history — but also, it’s good for recruiting, it’s good for tourism,” Thompson said. “Everyone wants to see the horses out there. Again, they are a crime prevention tool. I want everyone to understand that. There’s so many other benefits to having a mounted horse patrol unit here.”
“Definitely approachability. Community relations,” Gritzuk added. “It’s really an ice breaker to come up and pet the horse, because who doesn’t love a horse? It affords us an opportunity to be highly visible.”
Gritzuk, who was on the previous mounted patrol unit before it was disbanded, is excited about the prospect of once again interacting with the community on horseback.
“We are out here for the community. I can’t implore people enough to come up to us and speak to us. Come meet the horse. We are here to serve you,” he said.