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Step Up Horse Patrol, Group Asks

Downtown business association gives Santa Ana police a trailer as a way to encourage mounted presence.

March 11, 2003|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

Devil's Double is on his third career. In his younger days, the 21-year-old thoroughbred raced in Pennsylvania but then hit hard times as a pay-to-ride pony for an abusive owner.

"He was skin and bones," Santa Ana Police Sgt. Steve Alegre said. "You could see his ribs."

Alegre's cousin realized the haggard horse had fine bloodlines and about four years ago bought him as a gift for the officer.

Alegre renamed him Chance -- as in getting a second one -- and saddled him up to join Santa Ana's mounted police patrol.

To help make Chance's job easier, the Downtown Santa Ana Business Assn. on Monday donated a $7,500 horse trailer to the Police Department, in part to encourage increased patrols.

Police Chief Paul M. Walters accepted the three-horse hitch during a ceremony in Birch Park, near downtown. Until now, the department had only one trailer.

Mounted officers, who own their horses, would often have to use their personal trailers to get to assignments, Walters said.

The business association decided to help because its members were eager to see mounted police at more downtown events, said the group's executive director, Matthew Lamb.

"Over the last couple of years, our desire to see them interacting downtown has been increasing," Lamb said. But "due to a lack of transportation for the horses, it became evident that that was an obstacle."

Alegre and Chance, a dark-brown horse with a black tail and mane, were in Birch Park for the presentation, along with other officers of the seven-member unit.

The powerful yet calm presence of horse patrols helps with crowd control, Alegre said. A police horse is trained to ignore distraction and can safely walk on crowded sidewalks -- something an officer in a car or on a motorcycle couldn't do, Alegre said.

That aside, Alegre and fellow mounted officers Bill Sweet and Barry Davies admit that it's great to do something they love while on the job.

"[Riding has] a calming effect for me," Sweet said. "It's a good stress reliever." Sweet was at the ceremony with Tosca, a 16-year-old brown mare. On their second training day together, Sweet said, Tosca went into a full buck, trying her best to shake him off for about eight seconds.

"She didn't throw me, so from then on we've had a great relationship," he said.

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