The holiday season is a time to give thanks and celebrate traditions with one another! In New Orleans, this may include holiday parties, concerts, snapping a memorable photo in the Roosevelt’s beautifully lit lobby, candy cane martinis at The Sazerac Bar, a train ride through City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks, Christmas Eve bonfires lighting the way for Papa Noel, or maybe a Saint’s playoff game (just saying)! This December, we are excited to introduce you to a very special client whose job is to make sure we all stay safe throughout this holiday season. This month’s Community Connect client is NOPD’s very own, Will Cox. He seriously may be the most interesting dinner guest in New Orleans!
Will is a member of the New Orleans Police Department’s Mounted Unit. He has been on the force for 12 years and has been a Mounted Patrol Officer for 9 years. Will was born and raised in Princeton, NJ and grew up with dreams of becoming a police officer. He studied Criminal Justice at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and graduated in 2006. Having never visited the city before, he and his wife Megan were drawn to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. They worked in the revitalization efforts in the Musicians’ Village in the Ninth Ward, commuting daily from Camp Hope in Violet, Louisiana. Will noticed the NOPD was hiring and submitted his application. He was hired and joined the force in 2007. After graduating from the Police Academy, he was assigned to the Uptown 2nd District. Eventually, a position opened up for a part-time rider and Will completed the additional training in order to be considered. He spent a year as a part-time rider until a permanent position became available and he was able to join the mounted police in 2010 as a full-time rider.
The New Orleans Mounted Police Program dates back almost 100 years and consists of 27 horses with 9 full-time riders and numerous part-time riders. As a part-time rider, an officer rides many different horses and as a full-time rider, the officer is assigned to only one horse. Officer Cox’s horse is a mare, approximately 16 years old. She is a Percheron/Quarter Horse mix, standing approximately 16 hands and named Gypsy. Warmblood horses are the preferred breed for mounted patrol officers and are typically a combination of a draft horse and thoroughbred or quarter horse. Not every horse is fit for police duty. The animal must demonstrate the right mix of personality and temperament. Training to become a mounted patrol horse can take anywhere from a few months to a year. According to the NOPD’s Mounted Unit fact sheet, young horses do not begin saddle training until 18 months old. Additionally, in 2016 the NOPD began its own in-house breeding program thanks to generous tax-deductible donations from individuals, organizations and corporations. The Angola State Petitionary used to be the main provider of quality horses for the NOPD Mounted Unit. According to the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, the prison’s high-quality equines were bred and trained in chaotic situations similar to those faced by police officers daily. The program ended at Angola in 2016 and the NOPD acquired two pregnant mares and a stud horse to begin its very own breeding program. Two foals were born in the spring of 2017: Tebo Stardust, born in March, and Detroit Lady, born in April. Another two new additions are expected by the end of this year!
The city relies on the Mounted Unit for high visibility crowd control, crime prevention and community policing. You will often find Mounted Officers in the French Quarter, along Mardi Gras parade routes and outside heavily populated sporting events. Another main objective of the Mounted Unit is public relations and outreach, connecting and educating the public on the importance of the job. Officer Cox is not only a full-time rider but also an instructor within the program. In fact, when asked what his favorite part of the job is, he said teaching and connecting with the public. Having worked in the French Quarter for years, Will has literally seen it all! He says, “If you think you can out run a horse, you can’t.” It’s difficult to imagine arresting someone while being mounted on a horse, but he does it when necessary. He has faced countless drunk tourists attempting to feed his horse Lucky Dogs and chased down numerous armed suspects threatening to inflict harm on innocent bystanders. However, his favorite place to work is on parade routes because occasionally he gets a quick opportunity to see his family! He is a proud father of two young girls Sophia (5) and Harper (3).
It’s amazing how well-trained these animals are; standing stoically, at attention, while in the mist of large crowds, fireworks, loud music, moving floats, gun shots, you name it. Their presence is a true testament to how incredibly connected the NOPD Mounted Officers are with their horses. When asked if Gypsy and other police horses have the same status as police dogs, Will said that they are working towards strengthening the legislation so that police horses have officer status. Currently, there is no set age for the horses to retire. The two main factors that determine retirement are age and the health of the horse. When they do finally retire, usually around 20 years old, they spend the rest of their lives on the Northshore of New Orleans.
The Mounted Unit is dependent upon support from local non-profits like Mounted Cops Nola. They hold events such as the NOPD’s horse soccer game, which helps raise money to support its self-sustaining breeding program, build larger paddocks for the horses to relax in while not working and purchase riding equipment. The event, which was a joint effort between the police department and Hancock Whitney Bank, was held just last month and included horses from the Baton Rouge Police Department, the Oxford Police Department in Mississippi and the Orleans Parish Sherriff’s Office. To find out more about how you can contribute to the NOPD Mounted Unit, click the links below.
Thank you to Will Cox for his service to our community!
Wishing you all a happy and safe holiday season.