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Police Say Farewell to Mounted Unit

While a score of Capitol Police officers stood guard at a rally on a busy stretch of North Capitol Street on Wednesday afternoon, the only law enforcement presence visible over the crowd and heavy motorist traffic were four members of the agency’s horse-mounted unit.

Rising 12 feet off the ground, the mounted officers kept a watchful eye on the assembled crowd and used their steeds to help direct traffic when the protesters set off on a march to the National Mall.

But as they went about their duties Wednesday, the officers on horseback said they did so with heavy hearts. Wednesday marked the last day the mounted unit would patrol Capitol Hill before being disbanded and handing its horses over to the U.S. Park Police.

“It’s very emotional for us,” said Sgt. Kathleen Bignotti as she patted the neck of her mount, Freedom. “I think it’s a sad day for Capitol Hill. … It’s been a pleasure and an honor serving in the U.S. Capitol Police mounted unit.”

This past summer, Congressional appropriators cut off funding for the five-horse, seven-officer unit in the 2006 legislative branch spending bill. Members had called the fledgling unit — which celebrated its first anniversary in May — unnecessary and redundant given the resources of the Park Police.

A spokesman for the Capitol Police said that Chief Terrance Gainer, who had fought for $160,000 in funding for the unit during the appropriations process, would not comment on the decision to disband the unit. But on Tuesday, Gainer traveled to the horses’ stable and in a private ceremony presented each officer with a unit citation and medal of achievement for service in the division.

On Wednesday, one mounted officer expressed his frustration with Congress’ decision to take his horse away from him.

“Members themselves say they don’t want this place looking like a compound. Well, what’s more friendly than a cop on a horse?”

Another officer in the division said that “from the toughest parts of D.C. to the nicest parts of Capitol Hill, everyone loved these horses.” He added that earning his crossed calvary-sword pin for the mounted unit “was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. I’ve been so proud to wear the swords.”

The first officer said that throughout his last day on patrol, fellow members of the Capitol Police had come up him to express their sadness to see the horses go.

“You’ve got all the officers staring at you today,” he said. “They know what’s going on. Officers I don’t even know call out to me and say, ‘Sorry about the horses.’”

“It’s a great injustice to see officers taken out of what they love, especially when the unit could be so beneficial to the needs of our mission,” said Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Andy Maybo. “This unit never had the chance to prove itself being that it was disbanded as quickly as it was created.”

While the seven officers of the mounted unit will be incorporated into motorcycle, bicycle or other Capitol Police patrol unit, the horses — Justice, Honor, Patriot, Tribute and Freedom — will be officially transferred to the Park Police on Friday along with all their equipment. They will be housed at the Park Police training center and Edgewater stables in Rock Creek Park, where, Park Police Spokesman Sgt. Scott Fear said, they would each be evaluated as to how they would best be used in the future.

“We’re looking forward to having the additional resources,” Fear said. “And we have a great relationship with Capitol Police, so any time the officers want to come visit their horses or see them out on patrol we’d be more than happy to have them over to do that.”