- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

When demonstrators tried to rush toward the Capitol Building last month, police on foot and motorcycles could not stop them.

But mounted police from Prince George's County "turned that horde away," said Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Now, police on horseback will become a more common sight in the District. Yesterday, the department added six mounted officers to its ranks, joining two trained last year.

The six officers, all of whom have worked on the force at least seven years, completed 400 hours of training during 10 weeks at the U.S. Park Police Edgewater Training Facility in Rock Creek Park. With eight trained officers, the D.C. police department has its first mounted unit in more than 70 years.

"Having eight horses now is going to really increase our presence in the neighborhoods," said Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, adding that he would like to get the mounted police division up to about 12 officers. "The majority of their patrol will be in the neighborhoods."

In recent years, when mounted police were needed to help with special events and protests, the D.C. police department had to pay for them to come from Prince George's County or even Philadelphia.

Chief Ramsey said the mounted officers are not only an invaluable presence for crowd-control situations, but will be an asset for community patrols and regular law enforcement in the city.

The graduates, in full uniform, yesterday presented their horses, borrowed for the occasion from the Park Police, and performed a series of manuevers on horseback in front of family, friends and other members of the police force, Chief Ramsey, Chief Gainer, and Park Police Chief Theresa Chambers.

Accompanied by music, including Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful," they performed a series of canters around the indoor ring. They were then presented with their graduation certificates and individual awards.

Jose Rodriguez, a 14-year veteran of the department and the class representative, spoke on behalf of his fellow graduates, expressing the emotion that was evident in each face.

"We put our hearts, bodies and souls into this," he said.

"It seems easy to ride a horse. … It wasn't easy at all."

The ceremony and implementation of the mounted unit was largely the result of Chief Gainer's advocacy, said Chief Ramsey.

"It was a tough sell," he said. "But after seeing these guys out there and seeing what they're capable of, it wasn't long before I was 100 percent sold."

Chief Gainer said his brother, Tim, graduated from the same program 30 years ago yesterday and headed the mounted unit in Chicago until his recent retirement.

The District's mounted unit won't go into action until it can find a stable. Currently, police are looking to use a barn and some land near St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast.

A police spokesman said they have met some resistance from the D.C. Council over funding, an issue that mounted Officer Dennis Hamel hopes is solved quickly. At present there are only three horses in the Metropolitan Police Department, which depends upon donations to acquire additional horses. The department has been promised several horses when it gets a suitable stable.

Officer Hamel, who worked in vice for 12 years, said applying for the mounted unit was a no-brainer and he is eager to start policing on horseback.

"I always had a passion for horses when I was younger," he said

Officer Hamel, who was chosen as the top student in the class, as well as the top horseman, said he was surprised at being chosen for the two awards.

"I had no family here," he said. His parents live in Michigan and his wife was out of town on business.

"Now I wish they were," he said.

The onlookers and police officers who attended the graduation were enthusiastic in their applause and optimistic about the effect of the mounted unit.

"Just watching you, I felt an incredible amount of pride," Chief Ramsey said.

"You represent our unit very, very well."

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