His legacy continues, as a new tribute to Sergeant Ryan Russell is set to keep watch over Toronto streets.
A Toronto Police mount has been named “Russell” in honour of the 35-year-old sergeant who was killed in the line of duty five years ago. The 11-year police officer succumbed to his injuries on January 12, 2011, after being struck by a man driving a stolen snowplow.
Purchased from Carson Farms, the four-year-old purebred Clydesdale, 17 hands high, is halfway through his year-long training program.
He is expected to be ready for duty in October.
Russell worked for nearly six years with 54 Division Primary Response and Street Crime Unit, before joining the Gun and Gang Task Force, where he spent four years up until August 2010, when he was assigned to 52 Division.
Chief Mark Saunders said the honour is fitting.
“Ryan was a fantastic man who exemplified all the great qualities in policing,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we could replicate the hard work and dedication and the best way to do that is to pick one of our finest horses, right here, as we get to name him “Russell.” We are so excited about this as Ryan’s legacy lives on.”
Christine Russell, the widow of the deceased officer, said the honour is both symbolic and touching.
“It’s such an incredible honour to have such a majestic and powerful working horse named after my late husband,” she said. “Anything that honours Ryan’s memory is wonderful to us and we appreciate it. What’s even more special is that our son, Nolan, is now seven years old and he can now appreciate these honours. If we are allowed to, we will come by here once in a while to drop off some apples, carrots and other treats for this horse.”
Glenn Russell, the father of Ryan Russell, said the horse is absolutely beautiful.
“This is such a stunning and fabulous animal,” noted Russell, who spent 32 years with Toronto Police and was accompanied by his wife, Linda. “We are so proud and very, very honoured. Ryan was an animal lover from Day One and he would have loved this. He also loved his work with Toronto Police and for him to be memorialized like this in such an important unit is something that makes us thrilled to pieces.”
Several of Ryan Russell’s colleagues took time off from their police duties to attend the dedication at the Horse Palace. They included Detective Sergeant Brian MacDonnell, who met him on the first day when he started his policing career at 54 Division in the Primary Response Unit.
“I was his road Sergeant and I saw the shine in his eyes from the very first day he was with us,” said MacDonnell, who is with the Organized Crime Enforcement Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force. “When I moved to Gun and Gang, I reached out to him and he came over and became an expert. He was such a brilliant officer and great family man. I know he’s looking down on us with a smile because he loved animals and he would have loved what is taking place today.”
Detective Thomas Steeves, of the Major Crime Task Force, agreed.
“Ryan would be saying ‘wow’,” he said. “This horse will be with the Service for a long time. This is great for his family to have this honour.”
Constable Carol Windsor has been training Russell for the last six months.
“He will be going out with some operational officers shortly,” she said. “He will do some searches, crowd control and Divisional assists as his training progresses.”
Assigned to the Mounted Unit since 2008, Windsor has ridden Russell quite often in the last few months.
“He’s such a sweet horse with an amazing personality,” she said. “His stall manners are incredible, he’s gentle and, more important, very calm, which is what we love out on the road. When a dump truck goes by, we like a calm horse.”
Russell is the third Mounted Unit horse to be named after a Toronto Police officer who lost his life in the line of duty.
Bobby and Elvis, Percherons acquired in 2006 and 2002 respectively, are named after Constables Bobby Wright, who died of a massive heart attack on March 27, 1990 while riding his horse Billy in the exercise ring, and Elvis Zovic, who was killed in a motorcycle accident while on his way to work on June 25, 2002, two weeks after joining the Mounted Unit.
Retired Mounted Unit commander Bill Wardle said the fallen officers deserve the recognition.
“It’s a great way to honour Ryan and show how well respected he was,” said Wardle. “I know, in Elvis’ case, his parents would come by and visit the horse. With Bobby, we had his family come by and see the horse and ensure that that memory lives on.”
A few other horses are named after former Chiefs as well as deceased officers.
Boot and Chief Blair are named after former Chiefs David Boothby and Bill Blair.
Woulfe is named after Staff Sergeant Pat Woulfe, a Mounted Unit member from 1957 to 1995, who passed away in 1999.
Thomas and Sutherland are named after mounted unit officer Thomas Dundas, who served in the First World War, and former Mounted Unit commander Edwin Sutherland, who died three years ago at age 92.
The Mounted Unit, consisting of 25 horses and 40 officers, is primarily responsible for crowd management and crime management patrols.
The unit celebrates its 130th anniversary next year.