Friday, May 24, 2013

Animals and Public Trust: Mounted Police

I was walking through Chinatown looking for anything interesting to shoot and what did I see?  I saw horses. Yes, the mounted police were hanging out in an alley just off of Main and Hastings, the heart of the DTES. This is in fact the poorest neighborhood in Canada, and probably the most crime-ridden. At first, I thought the police were questioning a suspect in the alley, but as I walked closer, I realized that they were conversing...about horses!!

As I took pictures, at least a dozen people, residents of this poor area, who usually shy away from the police, were actually approaching them willingly and interacting with the boys in blue (and their trusty horses). They were no longer the symbol of the heavy hand of the law. They are immediately transformed into cool guys with horses!

I spoke with Constable Conrad Van Dyk of the VPD Mounted Unit and he agreed how the horses added a dimension to their presence that is immediate and profound. He said when the police patrol this neighborhood on horseback, they automatically become the star attraction. People who would normally never approach them come up and strike up a conversation. It's a rare site to see animals in this neighborhood, and even rarer to see horses!!

There are 10 horses that work full-time for the city of Vancouver. They are stabled in Stanley Park and patrol the park and parts of downtown. There are 6 officers that are assigned this privilege, 3 are always on duty between 10am and 10pm daily.  They also are on duty during special events, such as parades, fireworks night, and post-Stanley Cup hockey games!!

Constable Conrad mentioned that he would like to come to this area more often due to its positive effect on the residents. To be honest, I would rarely approach police myself, not because I'm afraid of them, but because I always assume they are too busy to just talk and interact with the public in general.

When I saw the horses, I too was immediately attracted to them. I am not a huge animal lover (unlike my wife) but I don't hate animals. I just feel they belong in nature. I don't bother them, they don't bother me. But there's something about horses and humans... I can't figure it out. I must admit, they are beautiful creatures, and they are great PR for the police in any city. Thank you for having them. Perhaps other than bike lanes and pedestrian walkways, we should also increase the amount of mounted police. This increases the interaction between people, between the public and the police, and also horses. It's an easy way to make the police more approachable in a city that often mistrusts them, deserved or not...

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