Dubai police saddle up to catch criminals

Burglars who think they are safe breaking into homes in inaccessible areas may find themselves arrested by officers on horseback.

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - August 4, 2010.

NATIONAL: Dubai Mounted Police first corporal Nasser Yousef (cq-al), rides Cozmal (cq-al), an Arabian horse at their stables located in Jumeirah in Dubai on Wednesday morning, August 4, 2010. Amy Leang/The National

DUBAI // Police rely on the element of surprise to catch criminals off guard. But few people would probably believe officers astride a strapping Arabian horse would be capable of stealth tactics. "Our strongest asset," said Major Mohammed al Adhab, head of the department, " is the surprise factor. We intercept criminals in places they are not expecting to find policemen. We catch many burglars red-handed as they are jumping out of houses.

Dubai Police's mounted unit, established in 1976 and considered the largest of its type in the UAE, enables uniformed patrols to reach areas off limits to cars. Some 90 policemen and 55 stablehands care for 140 horses, which are deployed in areas including Jumeirah, Satwa and Mirdiff. They also have call-out units in most Dubai districts including Deira and Bur Dubai, where their main task is to chase wanted people and penetrate areas where car patrols cannot go.

The department also has a riot police section to provide crowd control and maintain order. "At the moment, this section is mostly deployed to keep order at sports matches, but it is trained to deal with any type of riot - such as labour or political riots - should the need arise," said Maj al Adhab. But the surprise factor that makes mounted patrols so effective in apprehending criminals is also the biggest challenge for the horses themselves.

Walid Fedallah, an officer in the mounted riot force, said: "It is easy for horses to get scared, especially when there is a disorder. That's why we train our horses to get used to all kind of sounds and shapes, and to remain calm." The horses undergo daily training on a daily basis to ensure nothing spooks them. The sessions tend to be extremely noisy to ensure the horses become accustomed to all sorts of sounds.

"We try to eliminate the surprise factor in our work, therefore much of our daily training and planning goes toward that end," said Walid Mohammed, the supervisor of a patrol. The horses also have to undergo medical checks everyday, and each horse has a medical file in the department's veterinary clinic. The mounted police are part of a comprehensive security system set up by Dubai Police. "We work closely with CID, police stations, and the crime prevention department," said Maj al Adhab. "We meet every three months to co-ordinate and evaluate our work together and set up plans."

The units mostly operate at night. "The only place we can be seen during the day is on the coastal areas," Maj al Adhab said. One reason for the night patrols is to escape the heat. The department takes animal welfare very seriously. During summer, the animals get a two-day break after every day's work. In winter, they work every second day. Their stables are air conditioned and their water is chilled. And they are fed a diet rich in vitamins and minerals to make them more capable of dealing with the heat.

"Through such measures we try to reduce the effect of heat on the horses," Maj al Adhab said. "There have been cases of exhaustion among horses but we always have the situation under control."