Chicago Police Department’s Mounted Unit

Over the past almost forty years, fewer than 200 Chicago Police Officers have been mounties… special forces who protect the city from the back of a horse.  The mounted police unit is a tight knit group.  They’re good will ambassadors, and as WGN’s Judie Garcia reports, they’re so much more!

The city has 31 horses and 24 riders.  Two of those mounted police officers are reluctantly retiring in a few weeks.  Between the two, they have a combined 44 years on horseback.  About half of those who enter the training program don’t make it.  But for those who do,  they’re all in- for life!   ”He’s 1200 pounds of pure muscle,”says Chicago Police Officer George Gutierrez.  “I’ve broken my ribs, I’ve broken my arm.  I fell on concrete and I feel on dirt.  And let me tell you that dirt is a lot more comfortable to fall on than this concrete.” On this day, Gutierrez and Officer Dan Ferek chat it up with tourists and Chicago area residents on Michigan Avenue. “Not a bad way to make a livin’ huh?  An officer on a horse is worth ten on foot when it comes to movin’ a crowd.” Loud, busy, Michigan Avenue with it’s sirens, traffic and thousands of people.  It’s the last place these horses want to be.  The horses tolerate these conditions because of their expert training and trust in their human partners.  The horses tolerate these conditions because of their expert training and trust in their human partners.  Lt. Paul Bauer is commanding officer.

“So when you see a horse walking underneath the el tracks, walking in between lanes of traffic, the horse is there because of that rider.  And every day is a training day for that rider and horse because no day is the same in the city of Chicago.”  Those calm, steady horses act completely different in the stables on Chicago’s South shore.   They run fast and romp, kicking up their heels and rolling in the dirt. Some raced and some worked on farms before becoming part of the Chicago Police Force.   All the horses are geldings, similar size and appearance.  Mike Clisham is the head trainer.   “We’re all dressed in uniform. We all look the same. We want the horses to look uniform.” Each horse has a distinct personality.  Tighe kicks his stall until Chino brings his hay. Given Tighe’s impatience at mealtime, you might not guess how well he did on his first big assignment; NATO summit crowd control. Trainer and Officer Joseph Cistaro rode Tighe that day.

Eleven years ago, Cistaro came up with the idea of naming mounted police horses for Chicago Police Officers killed in the line of duty. His good friend J.C. Knight was one of the first officers so honored. “It’s a living memorial I guess. And it’s just our humble special way to you know pay our respects to our heroes.” Lt. Bauer has been on the police force 26 years. “ A lot of these names on the wall on these doors, I was a policeman working when that incident happened.  And it does affect you emotionally.  You might not have known them personally, but they were one of us.”  Doffyn, Bosak, Marquez.  Behind every name- a heartbreaking story. Officer Donald Marquez- shot to death ten years ago serving a warrant.  The Marquez family, including sister Donna and father Daniel, had heard that one of the new horses in training was named Marquez- but had never met him until this day.

“He shot my son three times,” says Donny’s Dad.  As he chokes up, daughter Donna picks up the story. “My Dad misses my brother every day and wants to go be with him. So this is a dream an answer to a prayer that my dad’s able to live to see this.”  Officers release Marquez in the pen and he runs right up to the family. Donna says, “He’s crying, hey he’s got a tear in his eye, look. Awww. You’re a beautiful horse Marquez.”

As Marquez works toward his first day on the job, Officers George Gutierrez and Dan Ferek prepare to release the reins for the very last time. Gutierrez will say good-bye to his partner Solorio.  “Maybe cause he’s my last, makes him my best laughs but he’s a good guy.”  And Officer Ferek will leave his partner Francis. “He’s named after Officer Richard Francis.  He was killed in the line of duty on July 2008.”  So the next time you see a Chicago Police horse, remember that behind every name is a story of sacrifice, written by a Chicago Police officer. Both officers have already stayed years beyond the time they could have retired.

And the Chicago Police Department retires horses while they’re still healthy so they too can enjoy retirement.  The department has a long list of people waiting to adopt the horses as pets.  And they ehcek up on them to make sure they’re living fat and happy in retirement. You can share the video link from this page or we’ll send the video link to your cellphone if you text the word cover to 97999.

 

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