- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

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Metropolitan Police Sgt. Leo Scully says his latest assignment is the most challenging of his career.

The 44-year-old officer breezed through basic training with both the Army and the Air Force, and a little more than 10 years ago, he passed through the Metropolitan Police Department´s police academy.

But at 6:30 on a Friday morning, when the sun is rising and most people are preparing to start their day, Sgt. Scully works under the fluorescent glare of a dank stable shoveling manure.

The stall smells bad.

Its occupant, Pistol Pete, stands by unfazed. At 1,200 pounds, the animal has yet to be convinced of the sergeant´s authority.

Soon, though, the two will be partners.

In seven weeks, Sgt. Scully will become the department´s first mounted police officer since 1924.

"This is kind of like history, " Sgt. Scully says.

As cities including New York, Philadelphia and Chicago already know, horses have a legitimate role in police work.

"It´s not just a showpiece unit, " Sgt. Scully says. "It can be utilized to support force, for crowd control, community policing."

U.S. Park Police Officer Pancho Gonzalez, a riding instructor, says one of the most effective weapons the mounted police have is the intimidation factor.

"If a horse is properly trained, to me it´s an awesome profile. You have a tall horse with muscles looking at you saying, 'Please get out of the way,´" he says. "I like to think of as the last line of defense. If things get really bad, we cannot retreat."

In the coming months, Sgt. Scully will rebuild a mounted police unit for the District.

First, though, he has to learn to ride.

He is at the close of the third of 10 weeks of the U.S. Park Police´s Horse Mounted Unit training program at the Edgewater Training Facility in Rock Creek Park. He is one of two District officers in the 10-person class, which also includes students from the U.S. Park Police and the Montgomery County Police Department.

The Park Police´s 34 mounted officers patrol land owned by the National Park Service in the District about 40 percent of the city. The MPD hopes to have six to 12 mounted policemen on patrol by summer in the areas of the city not currently patrolled by the U.S. Park Police.

Sgt. Scully says he always has liked horses, and after reading about the formation of a mounted unit last October in The Washington Times, he put his name up alongside the names if 16 other sergeants for consideration to run the unit,

He interviewed with Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer and then outlined his vision for the unit in the equivalent of a business plan, which he presented to the search committee.

Each applicant was assigned a score, and Sgt. Scully ranked No. 1.

Like most of the other trainees in the program, however, Sgt. Scully at this point still points his feet too far out in the stirrups and doesn´t hold his back straight. When Pete trots, the sergeant pistons in the saddle.

The trainers say that´s OK for now.

Officer Gonzales has been an instructor at Edgewater since 1997. He graduated from the program in 1991.

"It´s a 10-week program. I don´t expect any of these guys to come out of here and ride like the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers, but we´re giving them the basic knowledge, " Officer Gonzales says.

The "basic knowledge" includes more than just how to ride.

Lt. Jackie Burkes, the unit´s commander, says students are started off as if "they´ve never seen a horse in their lives."

Two hours of the students´ first day in the program are reserved for a class on grooming and care. On the second day, students spend one hour learning the parts of the saddle and bridle and another hour in a class on stable management.

The early classes focus on some of the more mundane aspects of horsemanship because those subjects can be crucial in building a relationship with the animal.

Most of the Park Police horses are thoroughbreds donated from the steeplechase track and can live to be about 30 years old. One instructor´s animal is 22 years old and has been with him since 1987.

"They know what your status is with them, " Sgt. Scully says, noting that if the officer doesn´t take care of the horse, "they may not be so willing to help you out."

The program quickly gets more intense.

In subsequent weeks, as students learn to lead, mount and walk their horses, they also learn horse anatomy and psychology, sickness and disease. As they learn to trot, canter and ride through crowds and creeks, they also attend seminars in punishment and rewards, age estimation and internal parasites.

They´ll have to learn how to transport their horses in trailers, as well as how to drive the trucks. They´ll learn what to do if their horse gets away from them and even what to do with their horse when they want to eat lunch or use a restroom.

In the final weeks of the program, students will handle their horses in simulated crowd conditions, with noise piped into the horse ring and plastic bottles and tennis balls thrown in their direction.

They´ll learn how to fire a gun off the back of a horse and then go on patrol in twos. By the ninth week, six hours of their eight-hour day will be spent riding.

"It´s not for everyone, " says Officer Paul Brooks, a Park Police instructor. "It looks like it´s real fun. It looks like it´s real easy. But once you get here, it takes a lot of dedication."

"By far, this is the most physically demanding training I´ve ever had. No. 2, it´s the most academically challenging training I´ve ever had, " Sgt. Scully says. "If you don´t come in with a no-joke attitude, you´re not going to make it."

Written exams are administered every two weeks, and students face inspections and riding evaluations.

Instructors say such an intensive course is required because they´re teaching people with little experience who are approaching riding at an average age of about 29 years.

"We don´t hire equestrians to be police for us; we hire police officers, and then they become equestrians, " Officer Brooks says. "It doesn´t matter if you have all the horse experience in the world; we´re looking for police officers."

The job of the mounted policeman is different from the average beat cop´s job in other ways, too. There are classes in community and press relations. Instructors emphasize that on the beat, horses are "people magnets."

"The horse is going to attract a lot of people to you and that´s a good thing. We want to make that a positive. Even bad guys want to come up and talk to the horse, " Officer Brooks says.

Both the MPD and the Park Police realize the District´s program has a long way to go to become self-sufficient.

"There´s a lot of things that need to be done between now and April, " Sgt. Scully says, referring to the class´s graduation date. The Park Police will provide the horse, but he still needs to find stable space, trucks, horse trailers even the most basic of equipment such as britches, boots and blouses.

But Officer Gonzalez warns that in his haste to get the unit moving, Sgt. Scully should not forget the most basic tenet of the mounted officer:

"Your mount is No. 1 out of the two of you, because without that mount, you´re nothing but a foot person."

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