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Aug. 5—Dewey and Luka are no strangers to running, jumping and following orders, but the new, four-hoofed members of Middletown Division Of Police are learning the ropes in fighting crime and community relations.
Officer Lindsay Schwarber handling Dewey, a 13-year-old Standardbred horse, and Officer Jessica Payne handling Luka, a 6-year-old Tennessee Walking horse, reprised the department's mounted patrol with appearances last week on the street and at special events.
It is not the first mounted patrol that's been a part of the force, but the last time officers were on horseback was in the early 1990s.
Police Chief David Birk said the idea was present to him by the officers, who both own the horses, and Sgt. Anthony Gibson, as a way to build public relations.
But the officers are not just "horsing around" — the teams have been in training and are equipped to do police work if needed.
The horses had their first official ride downtown recently meeting business owners and were a popular attraction at MPD Night Out event on Tuesday.
"These horses are owned by the officers. They have been in training and are insured. All the equipment and sponsorship was through the Middletown Moose. Nothing out of pocket from the city," Birk said. He added the officers are participating in addition to their primary duties.
"We are going to use them in parades and at different community events. We wanted to try something different," Birk said.
Payne has an extensive background in riding, teaching and training horses and thought a mounted patrol would be a good fit at MPD.
"We have the dogs and they are good for PR. We have a lot of people here who have horses and we thought of the idea of bringing them out for community relations," Payne said, noting for some in the community it's a first encounter with horses up close and personal.
"They are very approachable. A lot of people here in Middletown have seen horses, but they have never gotten close to them, let alone touch them. I really opens up a gateway for law enforcement to talk with people and connect to the community," Payne said.
The officer said Luka was perfect for the job and Schwarber said Dewy would also be a good recruit.
Luka is comfortable with people and all terrains from extensive experience in trail riding, but the mounted patrol training required exposure to flags, gunfire and sirens and fast moving vehicles — and many other things most equine would not typically see or experience.
Gibson said the training is about making sure the horse can handle the stressors they may encounter in a law enforcement situation.
"The meet and greets are a fun activity," Gibson said. "The shop owners were ecstatic to see the animals. It is a very big presence to see an officer walking down Central Avenue on a horse. People inside businesses waived and people cars slowed down to look."
Not only is it great for building community relations, but "it might make anyone down there to do anything bad second-guess what they are going. It puts officers about six feet in the air, they have a very good vantage point of what is going on," Gibson said.