BIG RAPIDS – Police work is not an easy job, and apparently retiring from it isn’t any easier for some. Officer Erik Little has worked with the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety for just over two decades and will celebrate retirement from the organization this month.

Originally growing up working on several ranches in Marshall, Colorado, Little worked with animals throughout his life in addition to engaging later in police work.

His career dreams didn’t begin with police work, but instead, worked as a drywall installer at 20 years old before he saw an ad for the Colorado State Patrol in the local paper.

Little said he initially struggled to get into the ranks of departments.

“The market crashed and construction went into the tank, and I saw an ad in the paper for the Colorado State Patrol was hiring,” Little said. “That was something I thought I could do until the market gets back up, so I applied but didn’t get the job.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever applied for something and went for something and didn’t get it on the first crack. So it kind of stuck in my craw a little bit. I made another attempt with Denver Police, and again,” didn’t make it. So I put myself through the Police Academy because it was a challenge then for me to get on. ”

Through learning more about what the job entailed, Little was able to find the areas he enjoyed about the work and connect with people in the field.

He said there is more to the job than meets the eye.

“I started looking into it more and more and more and realize what police work is really about and that’s not the TV stuff and decided I kind of liked it,” Little said. “I got hired with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department, (and) the more I did it, the more I liked it. I guess I wanted to get involved in more and more stuff in law enforcement and applied for special positions and eventually became a canine (officer) for a while. “

In his early days as an officer, Little faced a number of violent and dangerous situations on a daily basis.

He explained that the way the public views police has shifted many times over the decades he has been doing the work.

“The early experiences were really a young man’s game and naivety, I guess,” Little said. “When I started in law enforcement in the mid-80s, and through most of the 90s, it was a very, very violent time in the United States for the general public and law enforcement in particular. That’s not really documented well, because there were no social media. It was kind of an old school thought, if you could whip the cops and you get away with stuff. There was that kind of mentality throughout the criminal class of the public, which is still a very small percentage of the general public.

“We had a big skinhead movement back in the 80s,” he added. “More of a militia and skinhead kind of thing, so I ended up getting involved in the gang task force. Getting involved was so exciting being able to track down those guys. You and learn how to follow their writings and their and stuff like that. Doing that led to more serious stuff with the Posse Comitatus and stuff and Major Crimes that I got involved with. “


Later in Little’s career, he worked with the canine unit in his department and quickly found a love of working with animals.

This led him to work in El Paso County in the Colorado Springs area, where he found working in the canine department with drug dogs.

“I’ve always been a critter guy,” Little said. “Dogs, horses, whatever. I liked working with animals, and I like working with people. So I got involved with canines for a few years and that took me all through El Paso County. I was set to go down there and work at a larger agency and more active agency. That’s when we get more involved in street gangs and using the dogs.

“Larry Murphy, who was a PRCA cowboy, he’s also patrolling they started a Mountain Division (in El Paso County), and I joined up with them and got into horses quite a bit and learn how to ride and rope and stuff like that. We had a ranch roping team at the state level for the Sheriff’s department and it was a great experience. I really loved doing it. “

Mounted police are police who patrol on horseback and are often employed in crowd control because of their mobile mass and height advantage and increasingly for crime prevention and high visibility policing roles.

With the cost of living in Colorado rising and the danger of his work increasing, Little made the move to relocate to Big Rapids and begin work with the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety.

Little said his time working with horses in the community has been a big highlight for him.

“I tried to push them for a (mounted) division as soon as I came to Big Rapids because it was the community the city is just set up for it. The main street shopping district downtown is perfectly set up for that, and then the neighborhoods near the river, “Little said.

“Former Director Kevin Courtney had an interest in horses, so I was able to show that there are actually significant cost savings on a daily basis if I was on horseback,” he added. “All I’m doing is saving gas, money maintenance, insurance, all kinds of stuff on the vehicle, which when you add it all up is $ 50 to $ 100 a day savings to the city if I’m out on the horse. I was able to show that what I can do on a horse as far as patrol duties were was very, very similar to what you could do in a car, there are certain things you can do when a horse that you can do in a car, but there’s a lot more than you can do on a horse that you can’t do in a car. “

Little was allowed to start a pilot program and quickly saw the advantages of traffic control on horseback. He also saw the positive impact the animal’s presence had on the residents and community as a whole.

“Coming from a violent area, you handled things differently,” he said. “You didn’t have a personal connection with anybody in the public because of the type of stuff you had to do, and the concern of getting shot, it was always a big concern in traffic. So in general the public here helped work me off of that mindset quite a bit. They were good to me very good to me in a lot of ways as far as getting me to calm down and realize that not everybody I dealt with was going to try and kill me.


Little said horses allowed him to develop positive relationships with the community.

“It was huge for the kids,” he said. “They loved the horse and always want to come up and pet the horse.”

Little’s first horse he worked alongside in Colorado was named Chainsaw, who he worked with briefly until a disease in his foot began to cause him pain.

A Percheron Quarter Cross horse named Jesse came next, and according to Little, was one of the more popular horses he rode.

“Jesse was a big hit,” Little said. “Jesse was a great big, large animal, 16 hands and weighed about 1,600 pounds. A big, very dark bay horse who looked almost black. He was a lover. He loved to move, he loved the kids, he loved the ladies. He just loved people, he was gentle the same way too, and the kids just flocked to him, and even the bad guys did too. People want to come up, pet the horse and talk to the horse. Jesse was huge.

That is one thing I’ve loved seeing time and time again, “he added.” I talked about the public relations value of the horse, and one of the things is true to this day. After 3,536 years of service, not one time has anybody ever come up to me and wanted to pet my police car, and there’s never been a day or even an hour out in public where somebody wasn’t coming up to pet my police horse and talk to me. “

Jesse passed away in 2009 from a brain tumor, but Little garnered a lot of relationships with the general public from every walk of life through that horse, which was powerful for him.

He has competed and trained with mounted divisions throughout the country, and some other countries. Little competed at the training center in Lexington, Kentucky, and excelled there.

He explained that working with larger divisions with over 300 horses showed him the value of having a mounted division and improved his abilities as a single rider.

Little has also shared some of his experience and the benefits of mounted officers with other departments and has done clinics in Clare County.

“I think I broke a lot of barriers down about that because being one man on one horse is the same as being a patrolman in the car or on a bicycle,” Little said. “It really was no different. Some tactics were different, so you can maintain control of your horse. ”

In Big Rapids, Little worked with his horse Boomer and also had fond memories of his time with him. Boomer and Little would often make appearances and patrol during downtown events or gatherings at parks in the city.

Little said that although he is retiring from police work at the BRDPS, he plans to continue his mounted work in Clare County.

“I haven’t been a regular person for over 35 years,” Little said. “It is going to be different. I have more than enough to keep myself busy, I’m going to ride with the Clare County motor division. It’s primarily a search and rescue team but we do all kinds of special events as well. Whether it meant search and rescue, crowd control, suspect apprehension or riots, we are trained for all that. We don’t have a whole lot of call-outs, we’re hoping to get more as our unit gets better known throughout the state, and we are seeing an increase in call-outs. “

Little has plans to continue his community work and help other departments with improving their service.

After 22 years on the job, Little said his career and work in Big Rapids have been filled with unforgettable moments.

“Big Rapids is a good community,” Little said. “They support their law enforcement, they support their fire (department), they support their local government. I’ve had more people come up to me in public and thank me for my service, which is wonderful and makes you feel good. I have to give a big shout-out to the city and its community in general. They’re very supportive of us, the job that we have to do, and they understand the local politics of what’s going on.

“I’m going to be running my ranch up and the Reed City area and raising horses and moving cows,” he added. “Just the daily grind of police work is over for me. It’s time for the young guys to buck up and deal with it now. ”

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