The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office has begun exploring whether to create a mounted unit for sheriff’s deputies and correction officers on horseback "to assist with public safety functions and ceremonies.”
An Aug. 14 memo circulated by Undersheriff Steven Kuehhas and obtained by Newsday says the department is in “the preliminary stages of forming a [sheriff's office] mounted unit.” The memo says deputy sheriff and correction personnel would be eligible to join.
“Interested personnel should have equestrian experience including horsemanship skills such as grooming, maintenance, tacking and bathing,” the memo states. “Interested personnel should have intermediate to advanced riding skills in any discipline.”
Vicki DiStefano, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., confirmed the department was exploring the possibility of creating a mounted unit, but said there were no “immediate” plan to start one.
“The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office is in the exploratory phase of creating a mounted unit to assist with public safety functions and ceremonies,” DiStefano said in an email. “Mounted units have proven beneficial in law enforcement — especially at large events because they can move where vehicles cannot with a higher vantage point.”
DiStefano did not provide details on how correction officers could benefit from riding on horseback, or estimates of how much horses would cost to purchase and maintain. She said the unit could be paid for with asset forfeiture money rather than taxpayer funds.
Marc Bullaro, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice adjunct professor who spent 28 years with the New York City Department of Correction, said horses are very visible and can be a crime deterrent. An officer can observe a larger area on horseback, he said.
Horses can be used in jails to patrol property perimeters and outdoor recreation areas, and they can boost officer morale and improve community relations, he said.
“They're used as a conversation piece with the public,” Bullaro said. “People will stop and take pictures with the officer and the horse. So, it has almost a community relations aspect.”
The Suffolk Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 6 submitted a funding request to County Executive Steve Bellone for $4,298 to send four employees to mounted unit basic training, county spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said. The department canceled the request on Sept. 11, Guilfoyle said, declining to comment further on the proposal.
DiStefano said it canceled the request “because we are still exploring the feasibility of the unit.”
Suffolk County Legis. Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters), chairman of the legislature's Public Safety Committee, said while the idea had not been presented to the committee, he was “open-minded” about it.
But Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a retired Suffolk County police detective and a vocal critic of the county’s powerful police unions, said a mounted unit would be a waste of money.
“Squandering funds on the formation of a new mounted unit for the sheriff’s office would be irresponsible, especially when those resources could be better utilized to improve on the areas where the office is currently falling short. I doubt the horses will provide much assistance in helping them catch up with evictions and cutting overtime," he said.
Newsday reported in August that county law enforcement officers earned record overtime in 2022, with one sheriff's deputy earning $214,586 in overtime alone.
The Suffolk County Police Department does not have a mounted unit, but Nassau County police do.
Richard LeBrun, a Nassau County Police Department spokesman, said horses help police patrols at shopping malls, schools, festivals, protests and other major events.
The unit, which was formed in 1978, has 12 riders and 10 horses which are stabled at Eisenhower Park, LeBrun said, adding that Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman is supportive of the unit.
Reports commissioned by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that oversees Nassau's finances, have urged Nassau twice to end its decades-old Mounted Police Unit.
A 2017 report commissioned by NIFA said the county could save more than $584,000 a year by closing the division.
"The unit is not a mandated service," auditors wrote, and "is primarily used for crowd control and security during public events."
Public safety officers can "provide the same level of security at a far lower expense given the high costs of housing and maintenance associated with horses," the report said.