Living on a horse ranch in the Domican Republic helped Officer Jose Diaz build a mounted unit in the Waterbury PD.

                                Story and Photographs By John Murray

   Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary grew up on a farm in Woodbury and spent much of his childhood around horses. “I’ve always appreciated horses,” O’Leary said, “and for several years I’ve thought about adding horses to the Waterbury Police Department, but budget and manpower issues kept us from doing it.”

   O’Leary said he spoke with Police Chief Vernon Riddick and Deputy Chief Fred Spagnolo about the proposal. and presented the idea at a recent downtown merchant’s meeting.

   “Everyone was really excited about the idea and we’re committed to having a stronger police presence in downtown Waterbury,” O’Leary said. “When you put a cop on a horse you can’t miss the cop.”

   Millions of dollars have been invested in downtown revitalization and a revamped Green is coming online at the end of this month. “The horses will be very positive for the city’s image and will be a great community asset going to schools and attending events on the weekend.”

Police officers Jose Diaz, left, Dan Jones, middle, and Andrea Carr.

   The three horses and tackle cost $25,000 and the mayor said several private individuals have pledged $20,000 to help defray the cost to taxpayers. The mounted unit began with officer Jose Diaz who grew up on a horse ranch in the Dominican Republic. Diaz was tasked with selecting the three horses, and then Diaz and officers Dan Jones and Andrea Carr joined the unit and all three went to horse school in Rockland County, NY, for nearly three months.

   “We learned how to handle the horse during a motor vehicle stop, during crowd control, and in many other situations,” Diaz said. “The training was very intense and the horses were fantastic.”

    Officer Andrea Carr launched a “Naming Project” for the three horses and engaged elementary school students in Waterbury to name the horses. The final names will be selected soon by police department leadership.

The horses have been trained to remain calm around children, and in crowded situations and traffic. The Mounted Unit will be making traffic stops and giving out tickets all while still mounted on their horses.

   The Mounted Unit made it’s debut April 29th at Fulton Park and later that night greeted theater goers outside the Palace Theater during a showing of “Annie.”

   “We’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm already,” Diaz said, “and everybody wants to interact with the horses.”

Police officers Jose Diaz, left, Dan Jones, middle, and Andrea Carr.

   The Mounted Unit will focus its work mostly in the downtown area and will spend a lot of time in and around the Green. The unit will be active all year long except for weather related situations dangerous for horses; ice, below zero temperatures, lightening and excessive heat.

   O’Leary said the horses were not a lot of money and the three officers were already on the force. “If these officers weren’t on horseback they’d be on a bike, in a car, or on foot. The horses are going to be very popular in the community and we’re all very excited.”