Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Metro Police Officer Kelly Korb was on the beat in downtown Las Vegas when she spotted a man she suspected was selling crack cocaine.
As he noticed Korb coming toward him, the man started to run.
Korb took off after him, chasing him into the Western Casino, which would cause a commotion in any case, but even more so because Korb was riding a 1,200-pound police horse at the time.
Trotting past startled blackjack players, Korb — who rode in through the casino’s large, open double doors — followed the man through the building and out the back, where her partner was waiting on his horse.
“We just kind of surrounded him,” she said, laughing. “We headed him off at the pass.”
That was a dozen years ago, and Korb still wouldn’t trade the job for anything.
“My favorite part about this job is being able to work with an animal and being able to do police work at the same time,” she said.
Korb, one of five full-time members of Metro’s Mounted Unit, saddles up her horse, Nokona, on Friday and Saturday nights to patrol the Las Vegas Strip, from the fountains of the Bellagio to the Statue of Liberty at New York-New York.
“Nakona’s an incredible horse. He’s exactly the kind of police horse you would want,” Korb said after she and two other officers pulled over a taxi driver for speeding on a recent Friday night.
“We caught a robbery suspect downtown one time. He started running from Nokona and I,” Korb said. “We rode up and I grabbed the guy, and Nokona kind of spun around and knocked him off balance, and the patrol officers came around and handcuffed him.”
Nokona is one of 11 horses in the mounted unit, although one of them will be retired soon. The horses are rotated through different duties during the week: on the Strip, downtown, in neighborhoods, even in the desert or Red Rock. They also get a day or so of training each week.
On weekend night patrols, the mounted officers clip-clop beneath the neon lights of the Strip.
“We probably come into contact with anywhere from 100 to 500 people per night,” Korb said. “People come up to us all night to pet the horses, to take pictures. That’s all in the course of our normal job because we’re always busy doing something.”
Like their counterparts in patrol cars, the four full-time mounted officers and their sergeant handle regular police work during their shifts. That could include making traffic stops, thwarting robberies or helping find missing persons.
But the primary use of the mounted patrols is for crowd control — especially for events like New Year’s Eve, when more than 300,000 people pack the Strip.
“You immediately take the snot out of people who want to fight, who are drunk or anything,” Korb said. “They don’t want to mess with you because they know that they can’t challenge a 1,200-pound animal.”
On New Year’s Eve, the mounted officers enlist the help of Metro officers cross-trained to patrol on horseback so that 10 horses can be on the street.
The mounted patrol has been around since 1998. It was formed as a result of Metro’s research into how to handle the massive crowds for News Year’s Eve 1999-2000.
Horses are perfectly suited for crowd control, said Lt. Jack Clements, who is in charge of the Mounted Unit. One horse is the equivalent of eight to 10 officers on foot when it comes to trying to move a large group of people, he said.
“They see 1,200 pounds stepping on their foot. So they get out of the way,” Clements said.
“You see people come up and they want to rip the goal posts down,” Clements said. “If you’ve got two horses standing there, nobody wants to rip the goal posts down.”
Among the horses in Metro’s stables are mustangs captured by the Bureau of Land Management and saddle-broken at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. The once-wild horses tolerate the heat well and are used in search efforts for people missing in the desert, Clements said.
The horses are also good tools to build ties with the community.
“Everybody wants to come out and see the horse,” Korb said. “Good guys, bad guys, kids, everybody. They all want to see the horse. It’s a very good community relations tool.”
But just don’t mess with a police horse.
People have been known to throw drinks on horses or hit them, pull their tails or throw firecrackers at their feet. They are arrested on a felony charge of abusing a police service animal. Officers also carry a 43-inch wooden baton that can be used to protect their animal.
The horses are trained to remain calm despite the crowds and noise they encounter, from people yelling to honking horns, sirens, even gunfire. They’re trained to not buck or kick.
“We contact so many people a night, we can’t afford to have a horse with any bad habits,” Korb said.