OXFORD - Police here have been given the go-ahead to experiment with mounted patrols.

The city already has seen horse-mounted policing's advantages up close: Waveland Police Department sent its equestrian unit to Oxford to assist with security during the 2008 Presidential Debate at the University of Mississippi.

"Your horse-mounted officer is well above the crowd, and the horse being the large animal that it is, people tend to get out of its way," said Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin. "You can see things that are about to break out, and you can get to the area of trouble faster than you could on foot."

With both their vision and visibility enhanced by the horse's height, horse-mounted police have long been used in many cities and tourist areas.

"Our biggest problem downtown with the bars is the number of establishments in such close proximity to each other," Martin said. "This creates a lot of foot traffic in a small area. When the bars close, of course, it's even more so." He explained that the challenge at closing time is to "herd" revelers away from the confined area before crowded jostling escalates to shoving and then to fighting.

"When you put a lot of people out on the Square together when people have been drinking, well, alcohol fuels the need to show boisterous conduct," Martin said. Horse-mounted police have proven far superior to either foot patrols or car patrols in dispersing bar-goers, he said.

Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson agrees that equestrian officers could be useful for patrolling such events as Double-Decker Festival's late-night concerts and the postgame party scene on Ole Miss football weekends.

"I certainly don't think we need them on a continual basis, but when we have the big crowds, the unruly crowds, I'm told they're particularly effective," he said.

Four Oxford officers - Assistant Chief Joey East, Lt. Chris Roberson, Lt. Wes Hatcher and Sgt. Ashley Williams - have been chosen to attend a mounted police school offered in February by the Mobile, Ala., police department.

"They all four own horses and are very experienced riders. They've even taken their horses hunting," Martin said. Several of the officers rode, in civilian clothes, in Oxford's Christmas parade to gauge their animals' comfort around noise and crowds.

The last part of the equestrian policing school will be for the four students to help control crowds on the Gulf Coast's Mardi Gras celebration.

"I figure that's a pretty good final exam," Martin said.

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

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