Mounted posse resurrects the Old West

The functions of the L.A. County Sheriff's mounted posse are essentially to patrol areas where traditional police vehicles cannot traverse such as hiking trails, beaches and urban events where streets are cordoned off.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Posse brings elements of the Wild West back to life with its regionalized mounted regiment.

By Steven Genson/Special to The Malibu Times

Although Malibuites may only witness the numerous social appearances of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Posse, don’t look this gift horse in the mouth. The regionalized mounted regiment of reserve deputies and civilian volunteers has a more intrinsic value to the public than meets the eye.

The functions of the posse are essentially to patrol areas where traditional police vehicles cannot traverse. Hiking trails, beaches and urban events where streets are cordoned off are a few examples of circumstances that require the mounted deputies. Reserves also patrol rural mountain areas, parks and even the occasional shopping parking lot.

Reserve Cmdr. Karen Berry, who has served for nearly 30 years, suggests another useful aspect of the posse. “Horses are probably the best public relations [tool] a department can have. When you work with an animal, the more approachable [officers] are.”

But the posse did not always hold these responsibilities. Its conception evolved out of an idea to revitalize and honor the Old American West’s notion of the civilian deputy posses, Berry said.

Established in 1933 by Eugene Biscailuz, who has the longest consecutive service record in the department of 51 years, the posse started out mainly for ceremonial purposes. The mounted officers were traditionally prominent businessmen who were costumed in elaborate getups and perched on silver saddles.

As Malibu and the Southern California region’s population grew, the posse took on new responsibilities and shed its old skin. Starting in the 1950s, the posse established the first mounted fire watch for rural areas that did not have major roads. Instead of sitting pretty, the horse-riders had discovered a way they could give back to the community and provide safety to the residents.

Presently, the operations and structure of the posse have changed due to the immeasurable effects of 50 years of urbanization in the region. Formerly, the posse had a unit at each sheriff’s station, but today the mounted police are regionalized out of Santa Clarita.

Additionally, reserve deputies are becoming more scarce and civilian volunteers more numerous. “In today’s day and age, it’s difficult to recruit people,” said Berry, who attributes this to the high costs of horse maintenance. Although the department does not require owning a horse, Berry admits that “it’s always better to have your own.”

In order to become a reserve deputy or civilian volunteer, the person, as well as the horse (mares or geldings only), needs to take a basic training course. Individuals must first pass a detailed background check, which takes up to six months to complete. Next, trainees will enroll in a class that meets for two to three nights a week for 18 to 20 weeks.

Horse training, on the other hand, takes about two- and a-half months, which includes 40 hours with the rider. Perhaps the most important aspect of the preparation is sensory training, so the horses are not easily scared by sudden noises or highly populated areas. Riders and horses also have to be in top physical condition in case of emergencies that require 12-hour shifts such as during the 1993 Malibu firestorms.

Berry said people who become a part of the posse do so as a form of community service. “What better way to serve your country than by protecting your community? A lot of people just want to give back,” she said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Posse is actively recruiting new members. More information can be obtained by calling the local reserve coordinator at 818.878.1808, extension 3042.