When they ride in, the bad guys clear out

HORSE SOLDIERS

April 16, 1993|By George Holsey | George Holsey,PHOTOS & TEXT BY GEORGE HOLSEY STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

As the afternoon sun beats down on Charles Street in Baltimore, a vehicle speeds past the waiting police officer. A chase ensues, and the officer pulls the driver over to the side of the road.

When the officer approaches the vehicle, he asks the familiar question. "Do you know how fast you were going?"

No, the driver replies.

"You were going 12 miles per hour, and that's twice the legal speed limit," the officer informs him.

The year was 1888, and the officer was one of the city's newly-created mounted patrolmen. In June of that year the city created the unit to control traffic in the burgeoning city and protect citizens in outlying communities. That year there were only ten officers and horses. Now there are 20 officers and mounts, supervised by one Lieutenant and two sergeants.

Among those officers is Janice West, a member of the force for 17 years and a member of the mounted patrol for the past 14. Early in the morning, Officer West arrives at the unit, at 401 Holliday Street, and prepares for her day in the saddle.

After polishing her boots, donning her uniform, and attending roll call, she heads out to ready "Cody," her mount for the past five years. Officer West says it isn't a god idea to get attached to a particular horse, as she cleans Cody's hooves and brushes him down, it is clear that there's a strong relationship. "I know when he's in a bad mood, and he knows when I am, and we adjust. But on most days we work together in unison, and it's like an art," she says.

When Cody is ready, Officer West and her partners, Officers Therman Reed and Eric Cox saddle up and head out to patrol the inner city. The trio still handles some traffic problems, but more often, they're patrolling the drug-infested corridors near Greenmount and North Avenues.

The reason for this is the high visibility of horse patrols. Also, the teams can go into alleys and backyards where a cars can't, and they are faster than foot patrols in responding to incidents.

Lt. John Smith, head of the mounted unit, says his patrols can be effective in high-crime areas, but adds that he needs more people and horses.

Whenever the patrols make their appearance in a neighborhood, they draw attention. Children are the most fascinated with the horses, which appear huge to them, and lawbreakers typically ++ clear out when police ride in.

Officer West is close to retirement, and she says she will miss riding through the city on her horse. She wants to be an aerobics instructor, though, and is willing to move on to her new career.

For now, when she and her partners ride into the neighborhood like Peace Officers riding into Dodge City, the kids hanging out at Barclay and 20th streets send out the call:

"Yo, here comes the Pony Express!"

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