Over the course of reporting my story for The Nation on the NYPD’s Mounted Unit, I repeatedly attempted to contact the ASPCA — the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The APSCA has a “Humane Law Enforcement” division, which includes several members who were formerly part of the NYPD’s Mounted Unit.
As you might imagine, I thought these would be the perfect people to speak to about the events of October 15, in which officers on horseback intentionally rammed their animals into a crowd of demonstrators at Times Square. The famed bioethicist Peter Singer told me he regarded the use of horses in this manner to be “unethical,” and an equine behavior specialist told me one of the horses attempted to retreat rather than thrust into people.
Was this conduct consonant with the Mounted Unit’s guidelines? It was difficult to say, because the NYPD patrol guide makes such little mention of horse-related protocol.
Perfect, I thought — I’ll get a former Mounted Unit officer to comment on this, which would be doubly relevant, given that they’ve joined an animal rights organization after retiring from the force.
But none of them would speak to me. I left messages for several former Mounted Unit officers and current ASPCA employees over the course of several days, and never heard anything back. You might say: well, maybe they were just too busy to return your calls and emails! Perhaps.
But one individual did respond: Bret Hopman, who handles “media and communications” for the ASPCA. After asking for links to the horse attack videos in question, he wrote me the following:
Thank you for sending these along. However, how police horses are used to handle NYPD-related incidents is not something that we are able to comment on. You may want to touch base with the NYPD’s public information office to get information about the protocols that exist for their mounted unit: 646-610-6700.
The ASPCA is an organization devoted specifically to rooting out animal cruelty, and yet when questions of such cruelty arise in relation to the NYPD, it’s suddenly “not something [they] are able to comment on.” Why? Because NYPD officers facing allegations of animal cruelty intrinsically deserve greater deference than ordinary citizens? Perhaps. But who knows.
By the way, the NYPD “public information office” is notoriously horrible at responding to press inquiries. When you call that phone number, you’re invariably told to email “DCPI,” from which I have never received a reply.
To me, this explains why they didn’t answer:
ASPCA HLE agents are peace officers with full power to arrest. They work closely with NYPD. ASPCA HLE agents can take classes at the NYPD police academy.
So I think ASPCA HLE agents are not so much retired mounted police officers as they are people who have moved to another (virtual) division of the NYPD.