Capitol Police Saddle Up for New Duty

Posted February 2, 2004 at 6:34pm

Expect to see a new breed of law enforcement roaming the Hill come early May, when the Capitol Police plan to debut the department’s first-ever mounted patrol.

Training for the eight officers selected to serve in the program begins next week, and a Capitol Police spokeswoman said they will begin patrolling the Capitol grounds immediately following completion of the 10-week course in early May.

“They are going to be used during the daytime hours for crime deterrence and intervention” primarily on Capitol grounds, said spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel, who was promoted to sergeant last week. The horseback patrols may also be used for crowd control, such as during large demonstrations, and for “community policing,” she noted.

The division, created in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill, includes six horses, six full-time officers and two officers who will serve as alternates. The unit will be headed by Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols, who also commands the agency’s K-9 division.

The U.S. Park Police will provide training to the officers, who were selected through an interview process and also were required to pass a physical fitness test.

But, Gissubel noted, “It was not a prerequisite to have horseback riding experience or experience on a horse.”

A Web site maintained by the National Park Service notes that the Park Police program — which is used to train officers from a variety of law enforcement agencies including the Secret Service — is designed “as if the student’s first contact with the horse was when they walked into the U.S. Park Police training facility.”

Park Police Lt. Jon Pierce, who heads the agency’s horse-mounted unit, explained that the course focuses not only on riding skills, but also on basics such as “how to maintain the horses, how to administer medicines, how to maintain a barn.”

“The 10-week program really is designed so that you could go back and start a unit,” he said.

During training, which the Park Police provide at no charge to law enforcement agencies, the Park Police will also provide the Capitol Police with horses.

“We will utilize their stables as an interim measure,” Gissubel said. The Capitol Police plans to hire a consultant to help select and purchase horses.

The Park Police’s training facility, Edgewater Stables, is located in Rock Creek Park. A Capitol Police spokeswoman declined to identify which Park Police stable Capitol Police would use while it locates a permanent location, citing security concerns.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who serves as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, has praised the program’s creation.

“They’re going to be a real addition to the Capitol Police,” said Campbell, who spent six years as a mounted officer in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department training division.

“I’ve always been a big supporter of it because I’ve had some hands-on experience of how helpful they are, especially in crowds,” said Campbell, who asserts that one mounted officer can be as effective as 10 policemen on foot patrol in situations involving large numbers of people.

“The majority of the police horses I’ve watched and seen … they rarely have those troubles. There’s something about the horse that’s calming and tends to move crowds,” he said.