During three years of experimenting, Baltimore police have learned two things about horses: the good guys love them and the bad guys don't.
Neighborhoods besieged by burglars and car thieves have clamored for them. Purse snatchers run the other way.
Consequently, the department is adding another sergeant, 10 officers and four horses to its Mounted Division in the coming months to increase its personnel to 40 and the number of horses available for two shifts to 24, said Lt. Kenneth C. Streets, head of the Mounted Division.
Since 1988 when Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods reviewed the role of mounted officers in the New Orleans Police Department, officials here have been working to maximize the use of Baltimore's "mounties" by expanding their duties.
"For years we have had mounted officers in the Inner Harbor just issuing traffic citations," said Commissioner Woods.
The department has been slowly working the Mounted Division into regular patrol duties by assigning the officers to neighborhoods with specific crime problems, such as burglaries and auto thefts.
The results have been "just fantastic," Commissioner Woods said.
"I have received nothing but accolades from the communities. They keep telling me, 'Give me more, give me more,' " the commissioner said.
How times have changed. Under the command of former Police Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau, the Mounted Division was used only for traffic enforcement and parades.
Commissioner Woods saw greater possibilities and received the encouragement of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to review the Mounted Division and look for ways to expand it.
This year alone the Mounted Division has accounted for 363 arrests, about 30 percent of them for drug offenses, Lieutenant Streets said. Other arrests included suspects in shootings and robberies.
There was also the purse-snatcher suspect who chose to commit his dirty deed at the mounted officers' shift change.
Five officers on horseback who were about to end their workday and five scheduled to go on duty converged on the suspect as he attempted to run beneath the Jones Falls Expressway.
"He was probably saying to himself 'Oh, why me, dear God,' " Lieutenant Streets recalled. "A patrol car couldn't have gone there, and I haven't seen anyone yet who can outrun a horse."
Sgt. Albert E. Denis said the Mounted Division's officers have reduced crime in each neighborhood they have patrolled. Lieutenant Streets said burglaries declined 68 percent in one west-side neighborhood during several weeks the Mounted Division patrolled there.
About 90 percent of the horses in the Mounted Division are donated. One named Skipjack was donated by the local hockey team and another -- Roy's Choice, who retired several years ago -- had been provided by none other than Roy Rogers, the popular western film star.
Officers selected for the Mounted Division (there were 93 recent applicants for only four new positions) are chosen not only for their performance as police officers but how well they work with people, since part of their duties involve public relations.
Officers in the Mounted Division visit schools and community groups.
They receive eight weeks of rugged training that includes some bareback riding to allow them to "get the feel of the horse," Commissioner Woods said.
"I wanted to try it, but I chickened out. I will though . . . one day," the commissioner said.