Toledo riot tests mounted patrol trainingWritten by Myndi Milliken | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo’s mounted police force was called into action during the Oct. 15 riot in North Toledo. It was the kind of task officers and their horses have long-prepared for.
”Prior to the incident, we trained for this,” said Acting Police Sergeant Abe Diaz, who rode three-year veteran Mister during the riot. ”We trained with thunder sticks we got from the Mud Hens, NERF balls, signs and simulated riot situations.”
The horses were used to form barriers, contain crowd movement and separate the crowd when officers needed to make an arrest.
”If anyone needed to be arrested, we would go in,” Diaz said. ”It’s safer for us to go in than an officer on foot.”
Because the horses are used to separate the crowd, they are exposed to assault. During the Toledo riot, officers said the horses were often bumped and struck.
”Our horses, they are trained to take this, so it’s kind of like a mosquito bite,” Diaz said.
While riotous conditions made it difficult to nab those striking the horses, doing so can result in arrest with a misdemeanor or felony charge, depending on the damage to the animal.
”A person could get more punishment for hitting a horse than hitting one of us,” Diaz said.
One man was arrested at the riot for punching Blue, a veteran police horse. Diaz said, due to the speed at which arrests were made, the name of the assailant is not known at this time.
”Blue didn’t really flinch,” said his rider, Patrolman Robert Summers. ”He’s probably the best of all the horses we’ve got because of his experience.” Blue has been on the force about nine years.
Horses can be valuable in crowd control because they place officers above the melee, Diaz said. They can also be intimidating.
”Sometimes if someone in the crowd irritates a horse, it’s better,” he said of the reactions a horse might have, such as rearing up, moving sideways or spinning. ”The crowd usually sees that and it sends them running.”
Police horses are trained to perform a variety of tactics from remaining calm in chaotic situations to walking abreast or sideways toward, and even over, people.
Diaz said no tactics like that had to be used at the riot, but he felt the horses were prepared to do whatever their riders asked.
”One time, during a [President] Bush visit, one of our horses reared up and it sent the crowd running,” Diaz said. ”Nobody wants to mess with a 1,200-pound dog.”
Diaz said the horses were noticeably tired after the riot, but none showed signs of injury. The horses were given a week of light work (a couple visited local schools) and will return to their full workload this week.
”They were marvelous,” Diaz said. ”We gave them a little extra for the work they did.”
”They would walk through fire for us,” Summers said. ”I think police horses are invaluable in situations as these. One horse is worth 10 officers.”