ALBANY, N.Y. -- It's hard to imagine anyone messing with mounted police officers. That's precisely why the APD uses officers on horseback to control big crowds, like the ones you'll see at Alive at Five.
“A horse can intimidate a crowd without antagonizing it at the same time. We always like to keep a nice crowd nice,” said Sgt. Eric Cotter, Mounted and K9 Unit Supervisor.
Much like their human counterparts, horses are trained for duty. They push a ball to simulate moving a crowd, if they have to.
“Sometimes the presence alone of five mounted officers on police horses will be enough encouragement for people to go home and call it a night,” Cotter said.
They're also trained not to be spooked by loud noises and high stress situations, which helps the mounted officers during traffic stops and on street patrols.
“They can get to areas patrol cars can't. Because of the mounted officer's stature on a horse, they can see a lot farther than an officer in a car,” said Cotter.
And forget about the friendly neighborhood beat cop. Cotter says the horses do the best job of improving community relations.
“Kids always want to talk to the officers on the horse. And it's been a great tool for us,” Cotter said.
But they'll never be man's best friend. That distinction is reserved for dogs, especially the five intensely trained, European imported dogs in the K9 unit.
“Not only is he your buddy at home, but he's your partner at night. And he goes with you at places at night time that most people don't even think about going,” said Officer John Dunn, K9 Unit Trainer.
Dunn and the other officers on the team train their dogs to sniff out everything from missing people and drugs to explosive device.
“When the dog finds the particular odor we're looking for, he gets to play. And we are tapping their ability to chase the ball,” Dunn said.
Each dog is named after an Albany police officer killed in the line of duty.
“It's a way that we honor their memory and keep their sacrifice alive though generations,” Dunn said.
And the dogs are trained to make sure current officers are protected as well. They can be called off of an attack, but at the first sign of danger to any officer, they'll spring into action.
“I trust this dog better than two thirds of the people that I know,” said Dunn.
Seeing the K9 unit was the final experience members of the Citizen's Police Academy would share together and the course is something most of us will never forget.
“It made me more aware of what is really going on out there. I mean, the type of programs that they have, the amount of programs that they have. You just don't think about it every day,” said academy student Don Rahm.
“The handguns. Shooting our guns at the range. And even driving. Something that we do every day and now we put you through the paces in a slightly different manner. To see the reactions on how that affected you guys was interesting to me,” said Sgt. Dermot Whelan, Citizen’s Police Academy Instructor.
“Everybody was so into getting involved. Hands on, you know. That's really what makes it a great class. When everybody wants to do it,” said academy student Marilyn Hammond.
As we collected our diplomas, it was easy to think back on all our experiences, from patrolling the streets to saving hostages and even scuba diving, and truly say we have a better appreciation for the training and commitment needed to keep the city safe.