July 12, 2020
What does Miami look like without people? These lone horsemen patrol an empty city
By Rene Rodriguez

The horses can’t tell the difference.

Miss Miami and Ike, the two Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse mixed breeds who have been patrolling the downtown Miami area since the coronavirus epidemic put the city on lockdown, are trained to be comfortable in environments with and without traffic and noise. 

To them, trotting across a deserted Brickell Avenue Bridge without a single car or honking horn in sight is no big deal.

But for the two City of Miami Police Mounted Patrol officers who ride the two steeds, the sight of an eerily vacant downtown — completely devoid of the usual bustle and traffic and noise and pedestrians — took some getting used to.

“I’ve never experienced something like this,” said Officer Ruben Gonzalez, who has patrolled the area with his partner Officer Loisel Cruz for the last 18 months. “For me, this has been totally new.”

Gonzalez, 33, said the team’s usual duty is serving as neighborhood resource officers for the residents and business owners of the downtown district. Typically, they patrol the community, assist businesses with vandalism and petty crimes, help residents and maintain a visible police presence.

Those duties haven’t changed. But since most businesses shuttered and residents self-quarantined at home after the COVID-19 breakout, their jobs have shifted toward other things, such as helping the homeless find shelter or making sure people observe the six-foot distancing rule while they wait in line outside banks and grocery stores.

“There’s been practically no crime, but we keep ourselves busy,” Gonzalez said. “And people have been doing their part to support us.”

But the novelty of patrolling streets as empty as London in the zombie epidemic thriller “28 Days Later” has worn off.

“I would rather have the normal daily activity back,” Gonzalez said. “It’s fun because there’s no traffic, but you want to be able to engage with people. I don’t feel comfortable being lonely.”

Until things return to normal, though, the two officers will continue to patrol the neighborhood, four days a week in 10-hour shifts — and occasionally race down West Flagler Street past the Miami-Dade County Courthouse at full gallop.

“We just do that for training,” Gonzalez said. “You know, in case we need to respond to a call.”