Clop clop clop
The sharp, hollow sound of horse hooves on pavement startles a man at a gas station at a busy intersection in the Anaheim Resort district.
He looks up and sees two Garden Grove Police officers in black jeans, black boots and black cowboy hats gazing at him — their eyes about nine feet off the ground.
“You usually never see horses roaming around here,” says Yahir Diaz, who asks the officers if he can take their picture.
As two of the most photographed cops in Orange County, Officer Taylor Macy and Master Reserve Officer Rick Wagner are used to the attention.
The Garden Grove PD recently assigned the officers, who are members of the agency’s Mounted Enforcement Unit, to patrol a stretch of Harbor Boulevard whose hotels were jammed when the world’s largest trade-only event for the music products industry blew into town.
The NAMM spectacle, held Jan. 22-25 at the neighboring Anaheim Convention Center, brought hordes of tourists to the area and, along with the crowds, the prospect of more robberies and other street crimes.
High above the fray, Macy and Wagner get a clear view of car-choked parking lots and down into vehicles — a vantage point that helps them spot suspicious or unlawful activity that can remain out of the view of their colleagues on foot or in patrol cars.
Plus, being on horses gives them a chance to positively interact with the public — not something your average cop gets to regularly enjoy, especially these days.
“Nobody pets a motorcycle,” notes recently retired Garden Grove PD Sgt. Rick Wagner, 51, now a master reserve officer and member of the Mounted Enforcement Unit.
Wagner’s horse, Joaquin, is an 11-year-old Mustang who was captured in the mountains of Oregon.
Wagner is straight out of central casting, with a sun-kissed face and bushy moustache. He looks every inch the steer wrestler he used to be.
Macy, 27, who grew up in Nevada around horses, also looks like he could comfortably belly up to any bar in a Wild West saloon.
Macy’s quarter horse, a rescue, is Rooster Cogburn, named after the “True Grit” character made famous by John Wayne. Macy’s girlfriend is a deputy on the Mounted Enforcement Unit of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.
While members of the public love to snap pictures of the officers on their horses, and while the officers say being on the Mounted Enforcement Unit is a nice break from regular patrol, the unit is hardly just for show.
Having cops on horses is a “high-visibility deterrent,” says Sgt. Jim Holder, a former bareback bronco rider on the National Police Rodeo Association circuit who manages the Garden Grove PD’s Mounted Enforcement Unit of two full-time and two part-time officers.
The unit, which is activated for NAMM and special events like the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival, routinely busts people for prostitution, drug offenses, robberies, assaults and drunk driving.
The officers are trained to use both arms to restrain a suspect while remaining in the saddle.
“We’ve arrested people who walked up to pet our horses who were either intoxicated or who we found had drugs on them,” Macy says.
Wagner and Macy, whose crossed-saber pins on their police shirts signify them as members of the Mounted Enforcement Unit, recall chasing down a robbery suspect in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded street, their horses galloping about 20 miles per hour.
Launched in 2000, the Garden Grove PD’s Mounted Enforcement Unit is one of seven in Orange County.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has had one for years, along with police agencies in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Newport Beach, Buena Park and Huntington Beach. About 50 horses make up this regional mounted unit, which trains together monthly at a ranch in Norco.
The horses belong to the officers who ride them — only the equipment they carry on the horses (guns, handcuffs, etc.) belongs to the police agencies.
During a break on a patch of grass outside an Outback Steakhouse, Wagner begins whistling.
His horse, recognizing the command, relieves himself.
All “police horses” are trained to go to the bathroom on command and never eat while on duty.
“They know when it’s game time,” Macy says of the horses when police work kicks into high gear.
All equine members of the Garden Grove PD’s Mounted Enforcement Unit have to undergo rigorous training, such as being exposed to gunshots, fireworks and crowds so they won’t spook if chaos erupts.
The 1,000-pound horses are used as weapons to control crowds or suspects.
A woman holding a smart phone slowly approaches Joaquin.
“You won’t arrest me if I take your picture, will you?” she asks Wagner.
Of course not, he tells her.
She snaps away.
Macy and Wagner worked 2 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday when NAMM was in town.
“We’ll be happy to make two to three arrests during these two days,” Wagner says.
On their Friday shift, the officers arrested a suspect for possession of heroin and interviewed two suspicious people in a parking lot, but did not arrest them.
Saturday was quieter, with no arrests.
Snap! Click! Snap!
Several more pedestrians take photos of the officers while waiting to cross an intersection.
How fast can the horses go, someone asks.
“One horsepower,” Wagner quips.