Crime

Riding high: Cops turn to horses as partners against crime

Riding high:  Officer Eduardo Perez and his partner Panchito of the city of Miami police mounted unit.
Riding high: Officer Eduardo Perez and his partner Panchito of the city of Miami police mounted unit. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

It was Memorial Day weekend, and Miami’s Hobie Beach was packed with people enjoying South Florida’s sun.

A call came into 911 reporting that a man was floating in the water, unresponsive.

Within minutes, Miami Officer Eduardo Perez was at the water’s edge — helping officers Orlando Guerra and Daniel Mogro revive the man.

Perez credits his speedy response to having “the best partner ever” — his horse, Panchito, “who flew through the sand” to get him to the ocean.

Panchito, a Morgan that has been on the force for about seven years, can do things human officers can’t: weave in and out of traffic; maneuver through difficult terrain, including sand and thick brush; help with crowd control; and give his human partner a better vantage point to solve crimes.

“I’m 10 feet tall when I am on him,” Perez said. “Horses add so much to policing.”

Miami has one of the few police departments in South Florida that still has a full-time mounted unit. Fort Lauderdale uses horses, and the Broward Sheriff’s Office has a volunteer unit.

“Some people think horse patrol is antiquated, but that is not the case,” Perez said.

In Miami, the horses are not only a public relations benefit — tourists love to take a photo with the mounted police officers — but they help write tickets and manage crowds.

Last year, the mounted unit, which includes 11 horses, wrote more than 2,000 citations last year and made 260 arrests.

On a recent Wednesday, Perez mounted Panchito to do his rounds on Calle Ocho, first stopping at Domino Park in Little Havana. The horse easily weaved through the narrow paths.

He then walked out on the sidewalk just as a double-decker tour bus stopped on the street.

Ayrin Ruseva, who was from Germany, posed for a picture next to the horse.

“It makes you feel safe,” she said.

Unlike dogs, horses are allowed to eat on the job. Panchito is treated like a rock star in Little Havana. A woman gives Panchito three cut apples and three peppermint candies every day for helping to protect her neighborhood.

While other officers prefer cars, bicycles and motorcycles, Perez said his choice will always be his four-legged partner.

“I only need one horse power to get me around,” he said.

CARLI TEPROFF

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