Cantering down Cates Avenue to catch a hit-and-run driver, Senior Police Officer Jeanne Miller had just one problem.
“I don’t have blue lights or a siren, so it took me a minute to get his attention – people on the sidewalk were trying to help…yelling after him and pointing, some of them were even singing ‘The Lone Ranger,’” Miller said, laughing. “And then when he stopped and rolled down his window – I don’t think he was expecting to see someone on a horse.”
An alumnus of the Department of Animal Science, Miller now patrols campus with the Mounted Patrol Unit of the NC State University Police Department.
Her years working at the Equine Unit on Reedy Creek Road paid off: she rides, trains and cares for either Cowboy or Maverick, the department’s two Percheron/Paint geldings, nearly every day with her Mounted Unit partner, Officer Jason Wright.
Miller is fully equipped as a law enforcement officer – complete with pistol and handcuffs – but she gets a lot more requests for photo ops than your average cop. That’s the idea of the mounted unit: serving both as highly visible reminders of law and order, and as goodwill ambassadors engaging the community with campus law enforcement efforts.
“The students tell me we are all over Snapchat,” Miller said. “I can’t tell you how many selfies the horses have posed in.”
Wide horizons for Animal Science
Miller wants other College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students to know that their job options could be broader than they imagine.
“If you’d asked me when I graduated what I thought I’d end up doing, I never imagined I’d end up in law enforcement,” Miller said. “As an animal science major, that was never an option that was on my radar.”
She faced dual challenges when she graduated in 2009: a nationwide recession that torpedoed the job market, and the realization that she no longer wanted to go on to veterinary school, the most common career path for her classmates.
So she seized the opportunity to gain breadth of experience instead, working jobs as a horse trainer, a groomer, a laboratory research technician and a cashier at PetSmart in addition to her paid time at the Equine Unit.
“After I realized vet school wasn’t for me, I didn’t have any clue which direction to go,” she said.
Luckily, Mounted Patrol Unit officers have always trained and boarded their horses at the Equine Unit. After she graduated, Miller had a chance to help out the former officers with some training. That was the first time she considered law enforcement as an option.
“My dream was to end up in a career where I got to work with horses and help people,” Miller said. “What better job could there be for me than law enforcement on horseback?”
In the fall of 2010, she signed up for four months of basic law enforcement training at Wake Technical Community College. She was hired by the NC State Police in 2011 and spent two years patrolling campus in a squad car.
“She was always very enthusiastic, very knowledgeable and very willing to learn,” said Sergeant Timothy Hammonds, Crime Prevention Supervisor. “She picks up on things quickly.”
Miller took over as lead mounted officer in November 2013. It’s a big commitment, Hammonds said – mounted officers are responsible for equipment maintenance, ongoing training and care of the horses. They also must have a positive attitude and a service-oriented demeanor.
“We want to build a solid relationship with our community, and having that presence and approachability out there really helps,” Hammonds said. “We can’t do our job alone – if we don’t have engagement with the community, it makes our job very, very difficult.”
Miller takes her work as a law enforcement officer very seriously – she didn’t hesitate for a second when she saw the hit-and-run – but she’s also got a warm smile and infinite patience for answering the same questions dozens of times an hour.
“People say they’re glad we’re out here…when we’re in the car, they feel like they can’t talk to us unless there is an emergency,’” Miller said. “On the horse, everybody wants to come up and talk to us. We’re more approachable.”