After being sheltered in a former car dealership underneath the Jones Falls Expressway for more than 40 years, the Baltimore Police Department's mounted unit of horses was introduced to its future home Tuesday morning.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and officials from the B&O Railroad Museum joined to break ground on the First Mile Stable, a modern equestrian facility which will house the mounted unit’s draft horses.
“We should be glad that we are preserving this unit and, more importantly, that we are making a home that will be lasting and one that we all can be proud of,” Pugh said.
The Baltimore Police mounted unit was founded in 1888 and is the oldest continuously operated mounted unit in the U.S.
“[This is] more than just about building a stable for horses,” Interim Baltimore City Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said. “This is continuing a legacy.”
First Mile Stable, which will be accessible via a short train ride from the B&O Railroad Museum, will sit on a 2.4-acre plot of museum property. Museum board chairman Francis Smyth said project construction will begin within the month and is expected to be completed in approximately nine months. The stable is slated to open in spring or summer 2019.
The facility will represent a significant upgrade to the previous living arrangements for the mounted unit’s horses. It will include 12 double stalls (which are twice the width of a normal horse stall) and an outdoor paddock for grazing and exercise, an amenity the current location lacks.
“These horses are exceedingly well cared for,” said Kris Hoellen, the executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum. “But, obviously, they are going to have an even better quality of life when they are looking up at the skies rather than the underside of a bridge.”
The stable will also include an educational community center for tourists and inner-city school groups to interact with the officers and horses and learn about the mounted unit’s history and role in public safety.
“The mounted unit plays the same role it did since its founding with patrol as its first priority,” said Sgt. Russell “Russ” Robar, the commander of the mounted unit.
During an August 2017 press conference, Pugh, along with other city officials, announced plans to fundraise for and build First Mile Stable.
The First Mile Stable Charitable Foundation, which was established for the purpose of designing, constructing, and maintaining the new stable for the mounted unit, has already raised more than $1 million of the $2.5 million project goal. The foundation also launched a public fundraising campaign today to continue to support the newest stable.
Additionally, Smyth announced that the museum and First Mile Stable Charitable Foundation together will provide the mounted unit with two additional horses.
The mounted unit currently consists of six horses, although Robar noted the unit has authorization for funding up to 10. He said the mounted unit’s horses allow the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) to survey areas in the city that aren’t always accessible by car, such as tight alleys and fire escapes, and are effective at assisting officers on the ground for occasional crowd control purposes.
“The horses are the most important part of the unit,” Robar said. “They can handle what is asked of them and still be able to focus, listen, and remain calm.”
However, the horses also serve to improve the chances of civilians interacting with patrol officers.
“We look at ourselves as ambassadors for the city and what the BPD is about,” Robar said. “[The horses] help us to engage the community while on patrol. People are more likely to approach a horse than a patrol officer in a car.”
Robar said the stable’s location will promote a “continued and unique interaction” between officers and the Southwest Baltimore community.
“Most local jurisdictions don’t have horses and kids in the city don’t see horses on a regular basis,” Robar said. “The horses break down barriers to help reach kids and the community better. Anyone who has served in this unit knows how special our role is.”
Pugh and the BPD in the past have emphasized creating more opportunities for the city’s youth to engage with its officers.
“For many of these children, [field trips to the First Mile Stable] will be their first interaction with police officers, and it will be a positive one,” Smyth said. “We feel that this is a game changer.”