Last night we went out to the horse barn and met some majestic members of the Orlando Sheriff's Office. The horses are used in community relations, crowd control, crime prevention and ceremonies. Our speaker pointed out that deputies on horseback are eight feet tall at the very least, which makes them an imposing presence, not to mention most people will back off when over a ton of horseflesh with teeth and hooves is coming at them. Most of the horses are donated, and there's no specific breed requirement, although they do have to be able to handle the weight of a deputy plus all his equipment.
Both horses and riders go through rigorous training. These horses have to be able to remain calm during shoot-outs, when helicopters hover overhead, when sirens blare, and through smoke and other inclement conditions. As our deputy pointed out, they carry the same equipment as any other patrol officers, except their radios are waterproof. We got a peek at some of the different personality traits of the horses. Some ignored us, others wanted to see what was going on as we toured the barn. And pity the poor deputy who gets thrown. Their pictures are displayed on the wall in the tack room -- inside a toilet seat frame.
After horses, we got to meet Major, one of the new K-9s. His handler filled us in on the basics. Major is still young and in training. Dogs live with their handlers, and when a dog retires, the handler has the option to keep it. All the patrol dogs are German shepherds, most bred in Europe for the bloodlines. Research has shown these animals are 'cheaper' in the long run, because they come with a warranty as well as a proven pedigree. Unfortunately, the American bred dogs had a high 'unusable' rate, which made them costlier in the long run. There are also a couple of bloodhounds in the unit. All the German shepherds are trained first in obedience (and many arrive with this basic training already covered, although handlers have to learn to give commands in German. The dogs quickly become bilingual.). After that, they're trained in patrol duty, and they LOVE to chase bad guys. Catching them is their reward. After basic training, they can pick up one of four specialties: bombs, narcotics, search, or cadaver. Major will be a narcotics dog according to his handler.
Deputies who make it into the K-9 unit usually spend the rest of their careers there. They love it, and it's a coveted assignment. And, just as people will get out of the way of a horse, the threat of a 110 pound German shepherd with very large, sharp teeth is a great incentive to surrender. Even without the teeth, the sheer momentum will knock a grown man down.