Posse is still Carver County sheriff's sidekick
MINNEAPOLIS -- At 65, June Hilgers is a grandmother of nine and has been a hair stylist for more than 40 years. She also heads up her local posse. Hilgers, who runs her own six-chair salon in Waconia, Minn., moonlights as a member of the Carver C...
MINNEAPOLIS -- At 65, June Hilgers is a grandmother of nine and has been a hair stylist for more than 40 years. She also heads up her local posse.
Hilgers, who runs her own six-chair salon in Waconia, Minn., moonlights as a member of the Carver County Sheriff's Posse, which she will lead this year as captain.
Hilgers joined the posse in 2002, and her ascension through the ranks reflects just how much posses have morphed in recent years from their Wild West roots into a growing 21st century volunteer force.
In dozens of Minnesota locales, they help with everything from park patrols to fugitive hunts and search-and-rescue operations.
With the Republican National Convention scheduled for St. Paul in September, there's a chance that posses will play a role in crowd control. Posse riders proved their worth when President Bush visited Carver County in 2004 and Hilgers' posse helped contain a crowd of thousands.
Posses also have proved valuable in search-and-rescue operations. In the days after the disappearance of 5-year-old Corrine Erstad in 1992, among the dozens of law enforcement personnel who scoured fields and woods looking for the child was Jim Mirick of the Carver County Sheriff's Office.
While most of the searchers were on foot, Mirick sat atop a horse as a volunteer member of the Carver County Sheriff's Posse, one of the oldest in the state.
"We can go places a lot of other people can't," Mirick said.
And when it comes to crowd control, "There aren't too many people who are going to challenge a 1,500-pound animal," said Mirick, who has been with the Carver County posse for almost 25 years.
Since the early 1990s, the number of posses in Minnesota has been growing as more and more law enforcement officials came to realize the practical and intangible benefits of riders on horseback.
"Sheriffs are getting more open to people like us," said Hilgers, whose posse just finished getting the horses ready for the spring and summer.
Kevin Stokes, a posse volunteer with the Washington County Sheriff's Office, said there are nearly three dozen posses and mounted patrols in the state, and the number is growing.
"This allows us to give back to our community doing something we love -- riding our horses," Stokes said.
Most people, and especially kids, love the horses when they show up at events. "It's great PR for the department," Mirick said.
Posses have been around since the Wild West days, when U.S. marshals and county sheriffs would call together a group of men and temporarily deputize them to chase criminals.
Modern posses are not deputized and don't carry firearms -- but they are considered members of their respective sheriffs' offices.
"Posses have been around a long time," said Carver County Sheriff Bud Olson, whose modern posse was started in the 1960s. "They do a lot of work."
Thirty volunteers make up the posse in Carver County, and, just as in days of old, they are called out by the sheriff when he needs extra help.
Olson's posse members recently finished the sensory training, necessary so the animals learn to handle crowd noises, flares, smoke, sirens and other distractions before going on duty.
He said the posse's mission has evolved from chasing outlaws to patrolling and keeping the peace. Along with search-and-rescue work, posses can patrol parks and gather evidence when needed.
Olson said posse members are given extensive training on crowd control, crime scenes, evidence gathering, use of force and other common police duties they might perform.
"The sheriff wouldn't put us in harm's way," Hilgers said. "If we come across something, we call a deputy."