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Pony rides in Governmental Plaza

by Brian Clarey

The bicycle cops stand in a line in Governmental Plaza, each with his arms crossed and a two-wheeled mechanical wonder leaning against his thigh.

They’re eyeing the three strong animals in a similar row in the center of the plaza. Horses, from the Fayetteville Police Department, to give a little demo and a beat-sweetening moment for our city, whose police department could use some positive press right about now.

So we’re here to look at the horses. Watch them scuffle and scrape up the stairs, flick their ears and move in tight formation. Maybe one of them takes a big dump and we all get a good laugh.

The bicycle cops, once a proud symbol of our adaptation to modern urban crimefighting techniques, are thinking, perhaps, about job security or if they’ll have to figure out how to handle one of those 1,700-pound cruisers that will eat carrots from their hands.

“You got to put the oil in a different spot,” one of them says.

Crispy, dead leaves blown by a cold wind rattle across the grounds and the three horses – two Percherons and a dark brown’… I don’t know’… stallion?’… with close-cropped manes and haunches five feet off the ground – walk in formation to a sunny section of the plaza for the TV cameras and professional looky-loos, the upright citizens and politicos, the curious passers-by and the two or three dozen representatives of the GPD out in the sunny cold to see the horsey show.

“I don’t know anything about horses in law enforcement; this is all new,” says Sgt. Craig McMinn. “I was down in New Orleans and saw some of these horses in action.” He pauses. “They did the job.”

The three Fayetteville police officers, clad in these jodhpurs and white helmets, high boots with spurs, deliver the pitch from atop their mounts.

They’ve had the horses patrolling downtown Fayetteville since 1985, when the city started buying the animals with seized drug money. The horses are police aid animals, like the canines, and can run about 35 miles per hour, though they rarely need to; they give the officers a high vantage point from which to spot evildoers; they are worth 10 uniforms in crowd control situations; they can serve 15 to 20 years and are immune to pepper spray; they live for free in donated stable space and the annual cost is about $56,000 for their five animals, slightly less than one tricked-out patrol car.

They can make arrests and do traffic stops – “A lot of times [people are] just stunned because they got pulled over by a horse,” Officer Steve Lawford of Fayetteville says.

And they’re great for community outreach. The kids love ’em, according to the Fayetteville officers.

The crowd murmurs and nods. The horses scrape on the concrete and flick their ears.

Mayor Holliday has a practical question regarding the’… emissions’… of these particular modes of travel.

“How many times is he gonna lose it?” he asks, talking about a gray named Bismark.

The short answer is: twice. And seconds later Bismark loses a couple pounds of the stuff.

And the potential for comedy is enormous.

Given the current state of the police department and some of the particulars that have come to light, there are a hundred jokes that can be crafted from this situation, from the obvious manure-based quip to the somewhat more sophisticated observation that some of these assembled police officers may have misunderstood the announcement and thought they were going down to Governmental Plaza to look at some whores in action.

Bada-bing.

But really, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea. No offense to the bicycle cops, but the horses do cut striking figures as they lope around the grounds and it’s not hard to imagine a cadre of them clopping along downtown streets, possibly even patrolling other parts of the city where they could make a difference.

“People think in Greensboro it’s just for downtown,” says acting Police Chief Tim Bellamy, “but there’s other places we could use them.”

Yeah, I’m thinking, like my neighborhood and Glenwood and a dozen other places in the shadow of the city’s urban center.

I also think that, despite their twice-a-shift voidance, they class up the joint a bit.

There is some jocularity among the cops on the fringes of the crowd, snickers and smirks and elbows to the ribs. A couple of them discuss, from a safe distance behind a concrete and pebble wall, the “threshold” for horses that bite or kick the citizenry. “You get a police dog who bites a few people,” one of them says, “you have to put him down.”

Still, at this point in the history of the Greensboro Police Department, the equine officers must seem like a low risk.

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