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Wichita police officers on horseback patrol malls

Customers inside Old Chicago in east Wichita watched police officers Darren Chambers and Travis Easter with curiosity as the two uniformed men made their way to a booth.

What none of them probably imagined is that, after polishing off their bacon cheeseburgers and french fries, Chambers and Easter would be donning spurs and mounting up.

They are two of 10 Wichita police officers who, along with their regular assignments, are part of a special horse patrol unit.

While the two men ate Wednesday afternoon, they savored the opportunity to warm up a little after patrolling the lots surrounding Towne West Square, and before starting again at Towne East Square.

"Sometimes it takes three or four hours just to thaw out after a day of riding," said Chambers, whose face appeared windburned.

"There's really no way to bundle up enough," Easter added.

Despite the weather and the fact that neither had previous horse-riding experience, both officers said they would love the chance to work the special unit full time.

"I've been with the department for almost 20 years now, so I love being able to do something new," Chambers said.

"I get a lot of enjoyment out of the interaction we're able to have with the community while we ride."

"Interaction" might be an understatement.

All the unit's seven horses undergo intensive "de-spooking" training to prepare them for almost anything, including large crowds of people during the River Festival.

According to police Capt. Max Tenbrook, commander of the Patrol West station, the part-time unit patrols Old Town on the weekends throughout the year. The unit also expands its patrolling to shopping districts on the east and west sides of Wichita in December.

Any time officers and their horses are not engaged, Tenbrook said the community is encouraged to approach and interact with them.

As much as people enjoy the horses, however, the unit exists for more practical reasons.

Apart from the fact that the officers have better visibility and mobility from their high perches, the visibility of them is a crime deterrent as well.

"As a business partner in Old Town, I really enjoy the presence of the horse patrol," said Matthew Rumsey, director of operations for Empire Restaurants.

Rumsey oversees three restaurants, a wine bar and a catering business — all in Old Town.

"The unit is not only beneficial for security reasons, but it adds to the comfort level of our guests as well," he said.

According to Chambers and Easter, the power of one horse is equal to about 100 officers. They estimate that one officer and his horse are able to clear a crowd in about a third of the time.

For this reason and others, some hope for an increase in the size and operations of the horse patrol unit, especially as events at the Intrust Bank Arena get under way.

"I would love to be able to see an increased presence," Rumsey said.

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