NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – If you’ve walked through Times Square, chances are you’ve passed police officers on horseback.
What exactly are they doing there?
To find out, CBS2’s Elle McLogan met Jason Bernfeld, a police officer for the NYPD’s Mounted Unit.
He introduced her to the Mounted Unit Headquarters, a vast home for 22 horses, complete with tack room and exercise pen.
Bernfeld introduced Elle to Fantan, an attention-seeking horse with the personality of a dog. Fantan begged for chin scratches and his favorite treat: Lifesavers.
According to Bernfeld, each horse demonstrates its own idiosyncrasies and unique pet peeves.
“Some horses hate when hot dog carts are moving,” he said. “Some of the horses don’t like balloons. Some of the horses don’t like umbrellas. They’re prey animals, so things affect them differently than they would affect us—you know, loud noises, rustling in the trees.”
Bernfeld explained that the horses take time to acclimate to the city, training for up to a year and half before duty.
Officers undergo a rigorous application process for the Mounted Unit.
“These horses can’t really help themselves, so you need to make sure whoever’s taking care of them does the right thing by them,” Bernfeld said.
But why horses in the first place? Bernfeld says it comes down to crowd control and visibility.
“When someone needs something, a lost child, a crime’s committed, they come up to us because they can see us in the crowd. They can’t necessarily see that foot cop that’s standing there,” he said. “And it’s a deterrent. Just like those good citizens see us, those people looking to commit a crime see us also, and they say, ‘Oh, well, there’s a cop there, and I can see him. I bet he can see me.'”
Riding horseback also brings community and police together, Bernfeld said. The horse serves as an icebreaker between officers and citizens. People at Bernfeld’s Times Square post flock to snap photos and gush about his horse.
“We meet people, police officers and people, from all over the country and the world. Bridges gaps, you know? It starts a dialogue. It is a cool thing.”
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