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LINCOLN â Destinee Santos is only four, but she knows what she likes: horses.
The little girl exhibited a huge, lasting smile when her pre-kindergarten teacher's assistant, Cindy Flaxington, hoisted her out of her wheelchair and carried her over to meet âLittle Joeâ â a half-Clydesdale, half-Percheron who stands 18 hands tall (six feet) and weighs 1,800 pounds â stationed outside Lonsdale Elementary School early Monday afternoon.
âHe felt great!â Destinee gushed while dozens of her classmates and second-graders looked on in amazement. âEvery week, I go to hippo-therapy (at Greenlock Therapeutic Riding Center in Rehoboth), and I ride a pony, so this one's much bigger.
âI love them,â she added. âThey help me.â
The mammoth equine played a key role in aiding Lincoln Police Lt. Phil Gould and his brother, Providence Police Mounted Patrol Officer Doug Gould, in re-enforcing both Halloween and general neighborhood safety to pre-K, second- and third-grade students.
âHow often does a little kid get to see a mounted police horse up close?â asked Phil. â'This time of year is perfect for this; 'Little Joe' allows us to grab the kids' interest, and then we address trick-or-treating safety with them.
âThere's more to it than that, though,â he added. âWe also go into what we call 'Stranger Danger;' that is, what to do if someone stops and asks them to help find a lost dog. We address how to contact police if an emergency arises, and â if something happens â to contact a responsible adult immediately. We let them know if there is no responsible, trusting adult around, to call '9-1-1.'â
Phil, a triplet with Doug and banker brother Harding, explained he had talked to Doug about six weeks ago, asking him if he could swing a visit to Lonsdale.
âA couple of years ago, my boys were students at Fairlawn (Early Learning Center), and I figured it would be neat if they and their classmates could see something different about the police,â offered Phil, raised with his brothers in Burrillville. âNormally, we don't have the resources to do something like this, but â fortunately â my brother is a Providence mounted police officer.
âHis chief, Hugh Clements, and my chief, Brian Sullivan, know each other pretty well, so they set the wheels in motion in scheduling this event,â he added. âWe went through the natural chains of command, and here we are.â
Marla Barrett's third-graders were the first to partake in the Goulds' presentation, and, of course, the youngsters' eyes were riveted on âLittle Joe,â whose official name is âAllegiance.â
With Doug perched atop the horse, Phil asked the children, âWhat do you do on Halloween?â and one boy yelled, âGo trick-or-treating!â Phil then queried, âDo we throw eggs at houses?â and the entourage laughed, âNo!â
At that point, the conversation went something like this:
âDo we trick-or-treat by ourselves?â
âWho goes with you?â
âHow should we dress?â
âScary!â replied one boy, and the brothers chuckled.
Another child explained they should wear reflective strips, and one more stated they always should bring a flashlight, so passing motorists may see them clearly.
The Goulds also nasked them what they should do if a stranger approached them, and a boy responded, âGo home and tell your parents,â while a little girl hollered, âRun away as fast as you can.â
Phil's response: âThat's right!â
That's when Doug took over, answering queries from his young audience.
He revealed âLittle Joeâ is one of six horses utilized by the Providence Police Department, is now 16 years old and hails from Canada. He also indicated how horses are measured in hands (or four-inch increments).
âDoes he smell?â asked one inquisitor, to which Doug replied, âSometimes.
âInstead of a police car, I ride 'Little Joe' around the city of Providence; my brother, Lt. Gould, drives a cruiser,â he mentioned. âI'm actually able to catch bad guys because I can see so well. I'm 6-feet-4, and the horse is about six feet tall, so I'm way up high.
âHow do I get him to go catch a robber? I steer him with the reins and by the bit in his mouth, and I get him to walk or run just by squeezing my legs a little.â
Doug immediately offered the kids a demonstration, indicating how he got the horse to gallop or move sideways and backward.
âMake him dance!â screamed one boy, to which the brothers and teachers laughed hysterically.
âIt's a great attention-grabber for the children,â said Chief Sullivan, whose daughter Shaili is in Barrett's third-grade class, as is Aidan Gould, Phil's eldest son. âPhil and Doug are here to give them an important safety message, and they're using the horse as a magnet.
âThis is critical, describing to the children how they should dress properly, and be aware of what's going on around them at all times.â
As Barrett shuffled her kids back to their classroom, she stated, âWe didn't tell them the officers or horse were coming. We wanted it to be a surprise, a special treat for Halloween, and was it ever! I think the kids listened; they wanted to hear all about the horse, and â in between â they got the message about being safe.
âThe only one who knew was Aidan, and he kept the secret all to himself.â
When Flaxington saw the horse in the parking lot behind the right-field fence of Randy Hein Memorial Little League Field, she immediately asked if she could bring out her pre-K class. Minutes later, they and over 60 second-graders from the classes taught by Diane Walker, Maureen Powell and Kristina Caliri followed suit.
They turned out to be a more difficult group to tame, as their excitement overflowed.
âThis is a lot different from driving a cruiser,â stated Doug, who has been a member of the six-officer PPD Mounted Patrol team for six years now. âYou see a lot more, you hear a lot more and you're much more approachable on a horse. It's also easier to flag down an officer.
âCrowd control is the biggest part of what we do,â he continued. âThat's why we're in existence. When the nightclubs let out in Providence, we're there. When there are festivals, we're there. The height is tremendous. A cruiser, usually a Crown Victoria, is what? Five feet tall? Up here, I can see great distances.
âFour or five months ago, I was on patrol with 'Little Joe' and someone shot a firearm from the back of a vehicle. With me up so high, I could see the muzzle fire, and I sent out a description of the car. Minutes later, other officers found the suspect and handcuffed him.
âMounted patrol is crucial when there's gridlock in the city; it provides you very easy access to stairways, alleys and to move between cars. The best part about this is events like 'WaterFire,' because people will come up to you with their children, and they're so inquisitive. They also want to pet the horse.â
Doug also admitted that late Friday and Saturday nights, as nightclub patrons begin walking the streets, are the most hectic â for obvious reasons.
âI thought the kids did great,â Phil grinned. âThe biggest thing is we piqued their interest with 'Little Joe,' and the kids were interested in us because we're police officers. I thought there was an added sense of enjoyment and curiosity from the kids because of the horse's presence.â
Stated Doug: âYou know what I like most about this kind of thing? Most people, kids especially, are intimidated by police officers, and it's because of what they see in the movies or on TV. This shows them they don't have to be afraid of police, that we're not around just to arrest folks. We like being approached, providing answers to questions they have.
âWe can't do as many of these events as we'd like; we don't have the resources,â he added. âBut half of what we do is public relations. We do a lot of funerals and other different events. With this, Phil wrote a letter to Chief Clements for approval, and I talked to the Mounted Patrol Unit Inspector, Luis DelRio. They both said 'Go for it!'â
Dozens of Lonsdale students seemed thrilled they did.