MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

September 12, 2013

Officers patrol Centennial Trail on horseback

Rider says people more willing to approach mounted police

By Thad Ayers
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Police started patrolling Centennial Trail on horseback this week to improve security on the 8.7-mile path.

“People have said they don’t feel safe,” said Lt. Jerry Jaynes, sitting atop his horse Skipper. “That’s what’s kind of brought us onto the trail.”

Jaynes said the trail has secluded sections where illegal activities happen.

The patrol runs during the cooler morning and evening hours Monday through Friday when people are on the trail, Jaynes said. Occasional patrols will happen on weekends.

Police Chief Rex Eskridge said plans for the patrol began about three months ago. Implementation is limited, however, because hot weather is hard on the animals, he said.

“We’re going to see how this develops, see if there are any unforeseen issues that occur,” Eskridge said. “Those walking trails can help in terms of building the reputation of Muskogee. It’s important for the community to know that they’re safe.”

Jaynes and Officer Michele Ogden have used their horses part-time since 2005 at special events such as the Exchange Club’s Chili and Barbecue Cook-off. Special event patrols will continue, they said.

Using horses adds more than an improved field of view, Ogden said.

“It gives you a better chance to talk to people,” she said. “If I drive by in a patrol car, people don’t usually just walk up and talk to you.”

People will often approach the officers, ask to pet the horse, and will sometimes tell officers what’s happening, Jaynes said.

Such was the case when Jaynes began his first patrol Monday. He said a bicyclist stopped and told him a man was passed out near the trail. Jaynes said he found the man, discovered that he had outstanding warrants and arrested him.

“I’ve had numerous citizens stop to tell me they’re glad to see somebody out there,” he said.

Ogden said police horses go through a special certification and training for mounted patrols, like dogs in K-9 units.

Eskridge said the officers and not the Police Department own the horses because they’re too expensive.

“They volunteered to use their horses, but we’re compensating them,” he said, adding that the department helps with medical and feed costs.

Eskridge said the department is also looking at other mechanized patrol options such as four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles, which could be used in more extreme weather.

Although other patrol options may require less maintenance, Ogden said they don’t foster relationships with people.

“Nobody has ever stopped our bicycle units and stopped to pet their bike,” she said.

Reach Thad Ayers at (918) 684-2903 or tayers@muskogeephoenix.com.