SHERIFF’S POSSE: Assists With Search and Rescue Operations, Crowd Control, Patrol Activities
By Maria Sonnenberg // December 28, 2016
volunteers provide their own horses
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The handsome and well-mannered horses with their nattily-uniformed riders are instant crowd magnets during the appearance of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse at many events around the county.
It was the weekend before school started and the shopping complex was packed with people, many of whom wanted to get to know the horses and their people.
“We engaged with so many people,” said Space Coast Daily’s own Dr. Jim Palermo, who joined the posse in January of 2014 with his wife, Kerry.
“People love to come up to and talk.”
Volunteer Unit Provides Their Own Mounts
Horses command attention, as police departments around the country know.
The Mounted Posse trains volunteers to assist the Sheriff’s Office with search and rescue operations, crowd control at major events, patrol activities and as a special presence during functions such as parades and special events such as the 9/11 memorial at the Port, where the posse, accompanied by a riderless horse, stood in formation for over an hour.
The Mounted Posse has been seen often during the holiday shopping season in places such as Cocoa Village, The Avenue in Viera, and Merritt Square and Melbourne malls.
Word of mouth and some flyers posted around area stables enlisted enough riders to get the posse off to a good start.
It’s a win-win program for the community, which incurs no taxpayer expenses for the posse, since the 35 participating volunteers provide their own horses and pay for their care.
“They supply the horses, the transportation, the whole nine yards,” said retired Sergeant Rick Schmidt, the unit supervisor.
“Their commitment is just outstanding.”
Palermo, for example, rides his 26-year-old cutting horse Pete, who has been with the Palermo’s at their Banyan Tree Ranch on Merritt Island since the equine family-member was seven.
Jim and Kerry’s daughter, Michelle, rode Pete to the 2003 Florida High School Rodeo State Cutting Championship.
Kerry rides Michelle’s 10-year old roping horse, Big Bay, who is known as one of the coolest heads and “most laid-back” among all of the posse mounts.
Posse Members From Diverse Backgrounds, Focused On Contributing To the Community
Riders come from all backgrounds, from doctors and dentists to entrepreneurs and retired Air Force colonels.
“Most posse members are equestrian enthusiasts who wanted to do something with their horses that would contribute to the community,” added Palermo.
The response to the call for horses and riders has been high, despite the fact that making the cut for the posse is not an easy task.
“There has been an overwhelming amount of interest,” said Major Ken Willis with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. “The training is very grueling.”
Initial Training Centered On Riders’ Horsemanship and Horses’ Disposition
Even routine work such as patrolling The Avenue Viera takes very special riders and horses.
The rider must be in control of the animal at all time and the animal must feel comfortable during very fluid scenes in which a lot of people and noise are involved.
It’s not easy for horses to accept these situations. Horses are pack animals that depend on their speed – and sometimes some well-placed swift kicks – for protection from what they consider danger. Mounted Posse horses have to be cool and collected such as Chip, the thoroughbred that Schmidt rides.
“He was a show horse and traveled all over the world, in boats and in planes,” said Schmidt.
“Nothing bothers him. Because there is a lot of liability involved, the horses we use have to be the best of the best.”
Like his horse, Schmidt takes everything in stride. Retired from the sheriff’s office in 2014, he is a seasoned horseman with more than 40 years of horsemanship.
Mounted Posse applicants must successfully pass a background check and their horses are tested for their personality and “grace under fire.”
Getting accepted into the posse is just the first phase of joining the posse, for those who pass the test must then undergo rigorous training before ever tackling any official duties.
“The training is very grueling,” said Schmidt.
Comprehensive Law Enforcement Training
The riders are first introduced to the law enforcement environment because they will serve as volunteer deputies while on duty.
Classes include 16 hours of patrol training, including self-defense and training in search and rescue.
The level of dedication expected from the team is high. Logistics are also an issue, since the riding teams live throughout the county.
Owners transport their horses to training sessions, which may take place at Wickham Park or out in the woods. The teams will be used in search and rescue and will have to feel comfortable in all types of terrain and in the midst of any distractions.
Part of the training includes having a helicopter fly close to the animals without their spooking to the sound, for in a missing person case and other search and rescue work, they may have to do just that when a rescue helicopter joins them.
“We’re involved in training every other weekend or so,” said Palermo. “Your horses have to be exposed to very different environments.”
National and International Experts Present Workshops
As part of the course work, an officer from the A-lister of all horse units, the Canadian Mounted Police, presented a workshop for the Mounted Posse on riding formations and obstacle work.
A mounted officer from the Los Angeles Mounted Unit was also flown in to offer his horse sense.
Desensitizing the horses is paramount and they are tested with everything from smoke to the sound of gunfire. In one session, volunteers created a crowd scene with firecrackers; the horses were expected to remain calm and the riders were taught skills in crowd management.
“You never know what the situation will be, so the horses have to be ready,” said Palermo.
Posse Provides Enhanced Police Presence, Heightened Awareness
Although they will not be grabbing the bad guys or making any arrests, the Mounted Posse is expected to act as additional eyes and ears for the Sheriff’s Office.
“If we spot any situation that needs police presence, we are trained to call for backup,” said Palermo.
Some of the assignments – such as chasing the runners at the Sheriff’s Jail Break 5k run – are all in fun, but the goals of the Mounted Posse are very serious, for the posse was created to help prevent crime through increased police presence and to raise awareness of the Sheriff’s Office and its work.
The riders and their horses are ready to run with the concept.
“These are great people on very good horses,” said Willis.
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