Sgt. Hugo Fontalvo was on routine patrol near Fort Lauderdale beach when Delroy Brown flagged him down.
“He was distraught,” Fontalvo said. “Someone just stole his pedicab.”
The bumper-to-bumper traffic on A1A usually makes it difficult for officers to get through.
But that wasn’t the case for Fontalvo. His partner Zechariah whizzed through the traffic, allowing Fontalvo to catch up with the pedicab. Two men were arrested, and Brown got his ride back. Fontalvo said that probably wouldn’t have happened without Zechariah, a thoroughbred horse.
That’s not the only case when Zechariah’s speed, agility and height came in handy over his eight-year career with Fort Lauderdale police. The horse has aided crowd control, helped stop speeders and even posed for hundreds of pictures.
Now Zechariah, 14 and El Capitan, 19, another horse who has been on the force for 10 years, will hang up their saddles and badges and begin their retirement. Zechariah, who had a previous career as a racehorse, will live in Southwest Ranches with the family who donated him to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. El Capitan will be sent to Mill Creek Farm Retirement for Horses in Alachua where he will have 300 acres to roam.
“It comes to a point where you just have to say they can’t do this anymore,” Fontalvo said.
They are just like humans. It gets harder as they age to recover.
Fort Lauderdale Sgt. Hugo Fontalvo
On Wednesday, the horses of the hour were draped with necklaces made out of carrots as their two-legged partners showered them with attention at the department’s barn, 700 NE Ninth St.
Kerri Hagerty, whose partner for the last two years has been El Capitan, said she was going to miss “Cappy.”
“We bonded right away,” said Hagerty, who began riding horses when she was 6. She joined the mounted unit about two years ago and said there’s a huge difference between being in a car and on top of a horse.
“On a horse I am 10 feet tall,” she said.
El Capitan, known for being stoic, has helped officers catch criminals over the years.
On Oct. 30, 2012, Officer Charlie Sierra was on El Capitan when they attempted to stop a man wanted for strong-arm robbery. When another officer told Tyrone Freeman to get on the ground, he took off running.
El Capitan followed, cantering for about three blocks before they — along with other officers — were able to corner him in a parking lot.
Fort Lauderdale’s mounted unit, which now has 10 horses and six officers, patrols throughout the city, including the beach and downtown. Although public relations is a huge part of the job — people love taking pictures with horses — officers are responsible for crowd control at major events including the annual Tortuga Festival and New Year’s Eve bash, as well as routine patrol. The unit, which began in 1983, is one of the few left in South Florida. The Miami Police Department also has a mounted unit.
Fort Lauderdale police Capt. Frank Sousa said mounted patrol is an “invaluable” asset to police work.
“It is the most recognizable unit in the city,” he said.
On Wednesday, after everyone said goodbye to Zechariah, including kisses and belly rubs, Robin Sautter, who donated him eight years ago, walked the horse from his stall to her trailer.
“I know he is going to miss this,” Sautter said. “But now he can just be a horse.”