- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

It may be surprising that the Capitol Hill Mounted Unit, a five-horse patrol that can be as intimidating or as welcoming as the situation warrants, could be funded for an almost insignificant $145,000. But what should really surprise is that earlier this summer the House and Senate appropriations committees inexplicably eliminated funding for the program in an appropriations bill that President Bush signed into law Aug. 2. Despite an impeccable record of more than 7,000 hours of service in protection of the Capitol Building and the surrounding neighborhoods, the five-horse patrol’s last day will be Sept. 23.

The mounted officers provide both unparalleled functional and aesthetic service. On the functional front, crowd control is the indisputable forte of the Capitol Hill Mounted Unit, but this should not entirely overshadow the way the horses compliment officers patrolling on foot and in cars and fit into the comprehensive security scheme for Capitol Hill. The mounted officers are more than a protest-control commodity. An officer atop a horse can perform the routine duties of an officer in a car or on a motorcycle, but with several added advantages. The primary tactical advantage is the added height from which an officer on a horse can survey any situation, immediately gaining a better assessment and better control than any officer on the ground.

Horses are also far more versatile than cars or motorcycles: traversing steps and traveling more direct routes permit mounted officers to reach the scene faster than a car. This is a tremendous advantage in coping with everyday situations, such as accidents, lost children or suspicious packages, and the more dire situations, such as emergency evacuations and terrorist threats. During an evacuation, these officers and their horses enforce the thin line between order and chaos.

On the aesthetic front, the horses are the ideal ambassadors of community relations and a friendly symbol of security on Capitol Hill. As Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer told The Washington Times, “9 million visitors to this campus each year see our officers carrying heavy weapons, driving around in assault vehicles, barricades set up everywhere… I like to think what a nice juxtaposition it has been for our visitors to see a man and a woman up on a horse.”

With Sept. 23 fast approaching, any continuance seems unlikely. Nonetheless, a determined group has established a Website, www.savecapitolpolicehorses.org, extolling the many virtues of these horses. The mounted patrol is valuable in so many respects and the cost is so minimal. It’s not too late for Congress to act sensibly and save the mounted patrol.

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