In 1986 a mounted horse patrol unit dutifully sauntered by the American Fletcher National Bank [Now J.P. Morgan Chase] on Monument Circle around noon. Standing inside the bank was Harold Davis, an affable, unapologetically polite man. Until that moment he wasn’t even aware Indianapolis even had a mounted patrol unit. But at that moment, gazing out toward the officer and his horse as they trotted by, he said to himself, “If I was in the police department, that’s what I’d love to do.”
Three years later Davis would join the Indianapolis Police Department and three years after that he’d apply for and be accepted to the Indianapolis Mounted Patrol. “I always knew what I wanted to do when I started my career, and I achieved that,” he says.
Twenty-seven years later you’d expect him to have scary or crazy stories from the day-to-day job of a police officer, but he recalls none of them specifically. “There’s a bunch,” he says, “but the story I love the most involves my partner [of 15 years] Jason Palumbo. We always rode together. The horse he rode was Jake, a big white horse. I gave him the nickname “The Lone Ranger”. We’d talk to people and laugh about it and I told people I was “Bobo” because it rhymed with “Tonto”,” Davis says with a chuckle.
Adding, “About three years ago we were patrolling on the north side near Fox Hill and there was this lady with a big five-acre yard. She saw us on the horses and waved us over. “We don’t want to ride across the grass”, we said, but she said it was okay. Her granddaughter of about 21 and sister were home. We said we were the Lone Ranger and Bobo. A few years later we were working Black Expo and someone behind us yelled out, “Lone Ranger and Bobo!”. We turned and saw it was that young lady we spoke to three years earlier who remembered us.”
Back when Davis joined the Mounted Patrol in 1989 the unit was slightly larger than it is today. “We never had more than 12 officers and if we had 12 we had about 14 or 15 horses. Back then we used quarter horses, but they were a good size. We always wanted them to be at least 16 hands,” says Davis.
Once Davis joined the unit he stayed with Mounted Patrol through the rest of his career, culminating in his retirement just last month. “I was one of the last ones to retire from that time. No one else was still on the force,” says Davis. At 27 years, Davis holds the longest tenure for a Mounted Patrol officer. His former sergeant, Steve Park, was there for 26 years before returning to the police department 7 years ago.
A lot of things about Indianapolis and IMPD have changed since then. “A lot of visitors and residents had never seen a horse in a city before. When they saw it they just knew they had to come up to us,” says Davis, adding, “Our objectives expanded, originally from public relations to crowd control and even traffic management.” When the RCA Dome was still in use by the Colts, Mounted Patrol units would direct traffic from atop their horses. “We’d stand up in the middle of Capitol Street and direct traffic coming by. There are times I remember large tour buses would come by so close I’d have to lean my head and body to avoid their mirrors. But the horses would just stand there. We have some really well-trained horses.”
Davis assisted with training the horses for years and eventually took over full-time after Sgt. Park retired. “We were known as the “ambassadors of the police department” because everyone seemed to love the Mounted Patrol – specifically the horses – and if you were on the horse you understood that and you tried put on a good show.”
Davis trained his first horse, Sam, to do the electric slide, which was frequently a favorite show of passers-by on city streets. He also helped train Lightning to do the same, a horse that would later appear on The Late Show with David Letterman during “Stupid Pet Tricks”. “We were originally going to take two horses, but only took one,” says Davis. “We command the horse with our legs, so much of what the horse is don’t isn’t always clear to people. Do it fast enough and you get a horse that can move smoothly.”
Davis himself trained across North America and about 25 years ago even trained with the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. “They trained us to jump six feet up on the horses. I never thought I’d go over jumps that high, but when I did it felt good to do it. I look back and really enjoyed that.”
Davis has been married to his wife Lizzy for 20 years, who will also be retiring from her job in 3-4 years. Their son, 16, and daughter, 17 will soon graduate high school. “I want to see the country”, he says, adding, “I want to take a train trip out west and see the mountains. I’ve never really spent much time traveling west, and when I have I’ve flown or driven. I just want to sit back and relax and gaze out the window.”
As he looks forward to gazing out that train window, he remembers gazing out the window of the bank at a mounted unit on the Circle in 1986. “The roles were reversed years later. I remember being on the Circle where we’d let the horses drink water. And there was a young black man who came up to me and he looked up at me on the horse. He said “I didn’t know”. “You didn’t know what?” I asked. “I didn’t know a black man could ride a horse.”
Davis continues, “This was something I never thought too much about. Then I realized he was serious. And I told him, “This is the one thing I always want you to know. You can do anything whether you’re black, white, green or yellow. You can do anything you set your mind to.” I saw that kid again five years after that and he remembered everything and reminded me of it. That was always kind of a good thing because I was the only black person on the patrol. Even if they didn’t remember my name, as long as they could remember I was a black officer on the horse patrol, they could find me.”
“I take a lot of pleasure in that,” he says.