St. Charles officers mount up
The St. Charles City Police Department Mounted Patrol Unit is a small, but effective force when interacting with the community
By Brett Auten
Consider them St. Charles City’s four-legged comrades.
The Mounted Patrol Unit is a small but versatile component to the St. Charles City Police Department. There are just three officers in the unit with its patrol focused mainly on areas in and around Main Street, New Towne, and all of the region’s multiple festivals and parades.
The Mounted Patrol Unit started part-time in 1984 and became a full-time unit in 1988, and Ted Holland was the driving force.
The unit is currently headed by Tim Wandling. Wandling, 51, grew up in St. Louis County and now lives in Troy. He has been a member of the St. Charles City Police Department since 1994 and came to St. Charles after working for the St. Louis County Parks Department, where he saw the benefits of a mounted patrol unit. Wandling was a dog trainer, including police dogs, before he became an officer.
“I’m an animal guy, and I never thought about being a police officer,” he said. “The chief at the time talked me into it, and it sounded interesting.”
Wandling had been around horses all his life, and when an opening in the mounted patrol unit came up, it seemed like a natural fit and that the mounted patrol unit would be his next adventure.
There are positives aplenty when it comes to the mounted patrol but first and foremost is the approachability.
“It’s the best PR tool (the department) has,” Wandling said. “People come up and talk to us who would never ever approach a police officer in a car. They are drawn to us and the animal out of either love or curiosity.”
And there are things that mounted officers can accomplish that one in a car cannot, one of which is having the visibility to see up and over a crowd during a busy festival or parade.
“It is difficult for officers on foot or in a golf cart or car to see past the first wave of people,” Wandling said. “We can see a long, long way, whether it’s looking for a lost child or someone causing problems. And getting through the crowd can be difficult. It’s amazing how getting through a big crowd is next to impossible. But the horses get (the crowd’s) attention, and they part the waters and make a quick path.”
While Wandling had plenty of horseback experience, George Hayden and Shelley Shirk, the other two officers in the unit, are relative newbies.
Shirk has 22 years in with the department but, like Hayden, has been part of the mounted patrol unit for less than a year. Among her many duties in the past, Shirk spent time patrolling on a bicycle, and when the opportunity arose for a new challenge, she leaped at it.
“I always have loved horses but I never really had a lot of riding time,” Shirk said. “It wasn’t something that I could just jump on and go. I have been thrown off a couple of times, once even landed me in the emergency room.”
Paramount for Shirk was gaining the animals trust.
“Horses get spooked, and they think everything is a monster,” she said. “If they trust the rider as the herd leader then you start to build a lot of confidence. After 30-plus parades, things got progressively easier and better.”
Shirk echoed Wandling’s statement about the accessibility of the unit.
“No one ever wanted to come up and pet my bike,” she said. “The communication with the public is extremely important. It gives us an opportunity to prove that we’re not the bad guys and that we’re approachable and will answer their questions honestly.”
For Wandling, being able to take care and train horses on a daily basis while protecting and serving the St. Charles area, it doesn’t get any better.
“I’ve said it before, but during the Christmas Traditions on Main Street, I’d do that for free,” he said. “It is such a wonderful time. Everybody’s happy. They have the Christmas spirit, and it’s almost not like work at all.”
Any organization or school that is interested in a demonstration of the mounted patrol unit or a tour of the facilities is encouraged to contact Wandling at the St. Charles City Police Department at 636-949-3300.