Hartford's four mounted police officers pass in review during their graduation ceremony in Bushnell Park in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo)
By David Owens
Hartford, Conn. - During his 15 years with the Hartford Police Department's mounted unit, retired officer Robert "Bobby" Alfaro found two main advantages to being a cop on horseback.
First, everyone loves horses.
"Even the bad guys say hi to you," Alfaro said.
"You can see so much on horseback you wouldn't see if you were in a police car," Alfaro said, such as a popped ignition in a stolen car.
He and others attended a ceremony in Bushnell Park on Monday that marked the resurrection of the police department's horse unit after an eight-year hiatus. The team consists of Sgt. Heriberto Resto and his horse, Cacique; Officer Deborah Scates and Jag; Officer Marcel D. Washington and Seymour; and Officer Todd J. Jediny and Zeus.
A priest blessed the horses, and the mounted unit was reborn. The Hartford officers and their horses were joined by mounted officers from New Haven and members of the First Company Governor's Horse Guard, who trained the Hartford officers. Horse Guard Capt. Gary Brooks led that training.
Among those who believed that mounted officers served the city well and hoped for the unit's return was Deputy Chief Paul B. Hammick, whose wife, Maura, had served with the unit. Hammick found a sympathetic ear in Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts, who won support for the plan from Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
A mounted officer "is a great community outreach tool," Hammick said Monday. "An officer on horseback is approachable and, we think, will enhance our ability to deliver police services."
The mounted officers will begin their patrol duties in city parks and surrounding neighborhoods and gradually expand the area they cover. They can also be expected at parades and other special events, officials said.
Roberts said the officers selected for the unit are devoted to forging strong connections between police and the community
"This is a wonderful addition to our police department," he said. "This is a great way to build a positive relationship with the community."
"I can't tell you how thrilled I am," said Bob Maher, a retired police captain who oversaw the unit's creation in 1985.
Scates, who has been riding horses since she was 7 years old, also was thrilled. She applied to the police department 13 years ago with a dream of joining the mounted unit. But in 2000, shortly after Scates became eligible to apply, the unit was disbanded.
Her dream of serving as a mounted officer never faded, Scates said. "When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it."