And Finally

Blazing saddles

Controversy over Dalian’s mounted police

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The soft arm of the law?

Think of police on horseback, and most people will conjure up images of Canada’s Mounties. But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – established in 1873 – doesn’t fight much crime from the saddle these days. In fact the Mounties dropped riding lessons for new recruits in 1966. Nowadays horses are only likely to appear for ceremonial purposes.

Dalian is a long way from Ottawa, the Canadian capital, but the debate about the Chinese city’s own mounted police force has made headlines, spurred by a retired cop who wants to see the unit disbanded.

The police corps in question is a little unusual in that it consists entirely of women. Formed in the mid-1990s, it was the brainchild of Bo Xilai, the former Party boss who ran Dalian and the surrounding Liaoning province. Bo thought the sight of policewomen on horseback would set Dalian apart from other Chinese cities and they made their first public appearance at Dalian’s International Fashion Week.

Since then, the unit’s role has largely been cosmetic, patrolling the prominent Xinghai Square and happily posing for photos with tourists. Catching criminals seems to be less of a priority. According to Apple Daily, the troop has apprehended just one suspect during its almost two decades of service.

That’s led Zhao Ming, a retired Dalian traffic cop, to petition the mayor to get rid of the 65 policewomen (and their horses). He argues the unit is a waste of taxpayer money. “Maintenance costs are huge for a mounted team while the budget is very tight, and it’s inappropriate for police to be used as decoration when their duty is to secure public safety,” Zhao told the Global Times.

Zhao says it doesn’t make sense for the city to spend Rmb2,500 ($408) a month on the upkeep of each horse. And he suggests that – if a mobile unit really has to exist – it would be more practical for the policewomen to ride motorbikes.

Netizens seem to agree with him. A poll on Sina found that 61% thought that the Dalian policewomen were just “pretty faces” and that the horseback unit should be disbanded. “No police officer should be merely decorative,” commented one blogger on Sina Weibo.

Some of the residents of Dalian beg to differ, like Wang Xiuwen, who told the China Daily that she didn’t agree with the proposal. “They are a beautiful sight. They bring invisible earnings to the city,” Wang claimed.

The city’s bean counters may have to consider the tourism impact if the unit is disbanded. The mounted division’s training centre is actually a popular draw, with visitors paying Rmb50 to watch the policewomen working with their horses. According to CBN, entrance fees have generated Rmb30 million over the past 12 years.

And just as Vienna would be a lot worse off without its Spanish Riding School, others argue that Dalian’s chic horsewomen are a boost to the city’s image.

They may even have been one of Bo Xilai’s more inspired ideas…

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