For police, horses are excellent resources for crowd control, surveillance and intimidation. But their real strength is community outreach.
Two horses, Rebel and Pride, are helping police engage students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and other schools across the valley. Kids love horses, said officer Stephani Preston of the UNLV Police Services' mounted patrol unit.
"The horses are like a link that brings people together with the police," she said. "When we go out to community events, when you have that horse, people talk to you who would never talk to you otherwise.
"I can't tell you how many schools we've visited. We like to visit schools with the horses and show children that police are their friends and we're here to work with them."
Preston has been on the unit since 2006 and trained officer Laura Silva, who joined the mounted patrol last spring.
Silva was an animal lover with no horse experience who had to learn everything "from the ground up," Preston said.
Silva rides Rebel, a beefy, black 10-year-old quarter horse standing 16 hands high. Preston rides Pride, a 9-year-old thoroughbred standing 17 hands high. One hand equals 4 inches.
Preston and Silva even bring some of their own style to the horses. On a recent patrol of the UNLV campus, Rebel sported a mane that had been cut short and spiked. Pride had a long, flowing mane, but Preston said she sometimes braids it, which students seem to like.
Preston has been researching the history of the mounted patrol unit since she joined it. The unit started in 1989 but dissolved because one of the two officers retired. Silva is unsure when that happened. But in 2005, the student government gave $50,000 to restart the unit, allowing for the purchase of the horses, a truck and a trailer.
The horses are kept in a secure location in the east valley. It costs $12,000 annually to maintain the unit, which covers rent, food, veterinarian visits and shoes. Because Rebel and Pride need to be able to patrol on several surfaces, including concrete, they wear special sneakers with rubber soles.
And these horses do it all. Preston and Silva have arrested motorists driving under the influence on Maryland Parkway, issued tickets for reckless driving and caught people trespassing on campus.
"It's completely different doing a car stop on a horse than in a car or on a bicycle," Silva said. "It's a completely different animal, so to speak. The biggest difference is getting your horse to stand still. We stay on our horses when giving a ticket, most of the time."
The horses are most useful for events such as football games, where fights often break out at the tailgate parties.
"We're 8 feet tall on those horses," Preston said. "... Two years ago, we had fight after fight after fight at the tailgate. We were able to take those horses into the middle of the fight (and) end those fights. On foot, we wouldn't have been able to stop them."
Most of the officers' time is spent patrolling the UNLV campus Monday through Thursday. But they get stopped so often, they can make only a few laps around by the time their shift is over.
But that is OK, they said. It is why they are here.
"Our police chief is very into the community policing model," Silva said. "He really wants officers to interact with people in positive ways. We can't walk across campus without being stopped four or five times. People want to touch the horses, pet them, talk about them. Nobody does that with a patrol car."
The unit is available for school visits and welcomes student groups to visit the UNLV campus for demonstrations. The unit also is accepting donations to help cover the cost of the horses' care.
For more information call 702-895-3668 or visit police.unlv.edu.
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5524.