Q: Can you explain the background and reason for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office’s mounted unit, one of your newest specialty units?
A: As far as we can tell, the SJSO has never had a mounted unit; the City of St. Augustine had one in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, the Sheriff’s Office utilized a posse, where locals who owned horses could be sworn in to help with special circumstances when needed. 

A mounted unit has been a vision of mine since I was with the St. Augustine Beach Police Department and so I brought the idea with me to the SJSO. There were a couple of reasons that a mounted unit appealed to me: first, it’s innovative for marketing purposes and secondly, it’s a way to establish bonds with all communities — especially with kids, who might be intrigued by a horse. A sheriff’s deputy on a horse may be seen as less threatening to young children than a deputy in a police car. Also, in times of civil unrest, we know horses — which are massive creatures — are one of the best ways to control unruly crowds.

Q: So how did you set about establishing a mounted unit?
A: I wanted to budget for this unit without using any taxpayer dollars. It’s a public/private partnership with the horses themselves, as well as saddles and even the stalls they live in. We have two members of the mounted unit and both of their salaries are paid via the Sheriff’s Office like all the other deputies, since they are called in to perform other functions when they are not on mounted patrol. 

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Q: Whose expertise have you been able to utilize to get this unit started?
A: I identified one of our deputies, Johan Tschannerl, whom everyone calls “Deputy G.” He is a nationally known horseback rider in Europe and South Africa and has been a trainer here in the U.S. He and his wife Andrea did most of the fundraising for this unit themselves and he personally vetted more than 80 horses to find the two that were perfect for our program. 

Q: Tell us about these horses.
A: Both horses came from the Amish Country in Ohio, from a breeder who specifically breeds horses for law enforcement. They are Percheron horses. We have Jackson, who weighs about 1,800 pounds and has been with us for about eight months and Mason, who weighs more than 2,000 pounds has been with us for about six months.

Q: What are the plans and goals for this unit going forward?
A: In addition to Deputy G, we have added Deputy Jacob Bradley, so we now have two full time deputies in our mounted until. Deputy Bradley is currently undergoing an extensive, weeks-long training program by Deputy G and last week was the mounted unit’s first joint patrol. The goal is for them to be out on patrol or doing something proactive in the community around four to five times a week. We have already heard from the St. Augustine Police Department and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with requests for help for special events. We plan to have the mounted unit patrol in all areas of the county, including in the Northeast, the Northwest, Nocatee, and Hastings in addition to St. Augustine. It’s important for the horses to be around crowds and learn how to deal with them — and it’s important for our citizens to see the horses and understand that the horses are working members of our Sheriff’s Office.

Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you with any questions or suggestions about this article?
A: They can email me at sheriff@sjso.org or call me at (904) 824-8304. Also, our website, www.sjso.org has a wealth of resources, from alarm registration to Crime Stoppers to our Neighbors app.

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