By Fernando Alcantara/Garden Grove Journal
Bono’s voice echoed through Angel Stadium and bounced off the containers and stacks of lumber in the nearby lumberyard where Garden Grove Police Officers Pete Kunkel and Taylor Macy were preparing themselves and their equine partners for the night.
Bono and his band, U2, are partly the reason why Kunkel, Macy and other mounted enforcement units from other Orange County police departments are readying their saddles.
The other half of the equation is to enforce the zero alcohol policy in the parking lot of Angel Stadium and protect the citizens who have come to enjoy U2’s performance.
The Garden Grove Police Department as well as the other Orange County police departments agreed: the best way to patrol this area is while on horseback. Or more officially, through the Mounted Enforcement Unit.
Kunkel, 38, and Macy, 24, comprise two-fourths of the GGPD’s Mounted Enforcement Unit. The all-volunteer unit is led by Sgt. Rick Wagner, a 29-year veteran of the GGPD, and includes 36-year-veteran, Master Reserve Officer Ken Chism, a retiree from the OC Sheriff’s department.
Wagner, who helped found the unit in 1999, explained that their unit, along with five other departments including Anaheim, Buena Park, Santa Ana and the OC Sheriff’s Department, comprise what is known as the Orange County Regional Enforcement Unit; a specially -trained unit of horse-mounted police officers.
The ability of a mounted unit was not fully understood, according to Wagner, until May 2005 when James Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project spoke at the Garden Grove Women’s Club. A crowd of 300 protestors with divided philosophies began to argue and commit illegal acts that officers on foot were unable to quell.
“The event was over, protesters wouldn’t move, police officers were getting ready to use tear gas or pepper spray and batons,” Wagner said. GGPD decided instead to use the horse-mounted unit and found that it required only eight mounted officers to control and disperse the crowd without having to harm a single protestor.
“That moment validated the mounted unit,” Wagner said and believes that all it takes for a department to believe in a mounted unit is to see it in action.
Two days before U2 was scheduled to perform, the four horsemen of GGPD trained with their horses at Ingall’s Equestrian Center in Norco where even the families of the officers come to support the mounted unit.
The unit practiced squad commands, riding techniques and a session with live fireworks was included in order to prepare the horses for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration.
“Whatever we encounter, we’ve already trained for it and we have a high probability of being successful,” Wagner said.
Kunkel, a seven-year veteran, believes mounted officers can deter criminal activity. “There’s no better tool than a police officer on a horse,” Kunkel said.
Macy, who has 17 years of horse riding experience, believes the unit gives a positive experience to the public.
“People won’t approach us in a squad car, but, they’ll come up and pet your horse,” he said. “Normally people call the police because a bad thing has happened to them versus a positive experience; they feel more comfortable with us.”
“They don’t feel that intimidation that they do when we’re in a black and white,” Master Reserve Officer Chism said. “When you ride up on a horse, people who wouldn’t normally talk to us, will want to talk to us.”
For this reason the mounted unit has deployed Officers Kunkel and Macy on the night of U2’s performance. The mounted unit’s presence eases the crowd while simultaneously deterring criminal activity; a delicate balance of service that only the mounted unit can provide.
Meanwhile, Macy attaches his body armor before donning the midnight blue button-up. At first glance, Macy looks like another police officer.
Until he puts the Stetson atop his head.
As he’s suiting up, Kunkel explained how their focus changes as soon as they put on the uniform.
“We go to the places smart people run away from. While their running away, we’re going towards the problem.” Kunkel said.
Macy nods, performs a chamber check of his 1911 pistol, holsters it and gives Kunkel another nod. He’s ready.
The sound of spurs jangling alerts their equine partners that it’s time for duty. The horses’ heads snap up as Kunkel and Macy mount-up to join the other officers and arrange themselves in squad formation.
“Column, left!” a lead officer from the Anaheim Police Department yells as the entire squad exits the lumberyard and goes underneath the 57 freeway to enter Angel’s Stadium as the OC Regional Enforcement Unit begins duty for the night.