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Reining in Crime at the Mall : Holidays: Officials say horseback police patrols in parking lots generally reduce offenses by half.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles police began their annual horseback patrols of San Fernando Valley shopping mall parking lots Monday to protect holiday shoppers from robberies, purse snatchings and auto burglaries.

The first team of four officers began riding horseback outside Valley Plaza in North Hollywood, attracting curious children who patted the noses of the horses under the protective eyes of their mothers. The mounted police will patrol several other Valley malls as well through the end of December.

Mounted patrols generally reduce crime by about half, officials said Monday.

“The criminals see us and it deters them from doing what they do best,” Sgt. Clyde Conly said. He said the horses are more maneuverable than patrol cars in crowded parking lots and provide better visibility because riders sit seven to eight feet above the ground.

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“Last year when we did this, the crime was almost nil,” he said.

Conly and mall executives said the presence of the horses makes shoppers feel more secure, and children are fascinated by the animals.

“They’re fantastic,” Valley Plaza Manager Chuck Leroy said. “They really are. We don’t have a lot of crime to begin with, but it drops when they’re here.”

It was Leroy’s 8-year-old son who first suggested using the horse patrols at Valley Plaza. “My son was 3 years old and he saw them on TV and he wanted to know why we didn’t have them here.”

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About 20 officers will patrol malls and other shopping districts throughout Los Angeles, a tradition begun a decade ago by officers who volunteered their equestrian skills to merchants who requested extra security.

In the Valley, officers will patrol about three days each week at Valley Plaza and Laurel Plaza, Sherman Oaks Fashion Square, Northridge Fashion Center, Topanga Plaza and Panorama City Mall. Police said the patrols are being sent to those malls that requested them.


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