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Horsing with their health?

April 23, 2004

Here's the good news from the Mounted Division: The Police Department is expected to assign 20 more officers to the Republican National Convention this summer.

Here's the bad news: Thirty-two horses - about a third of the unit's stock - are injured.

To compensate, unit sources say, healthy horses are being double-toured. This, of course, is a recipe for injury. Their withers, the ridge between the shoulder, can swell or develop saddle rub. To hide double-touring, unit sources say, entries are not properly recorded in the roll call and horse book.

Check out the lineup at Troop A on Varick Street and Troop B at the Chelsea Pier and you'll get the idea. On Troop A's day tour, there is a sergeant and six cops; on the 4-12 tour, a lieutenant, sergeant and nine cops. There are 13 horses in the troop. At Troop B's day tour, there's a lieutenant, sergeant and seven officers. On the 4-12, a lieutenant, two sergeants and 13 cops. There are 15 horses in the troop.

Since sergeants and lieutenants have assigned horses, this might indicate that unless some officers are sitting around all day, the horses they are riding are double-toured. Since this column reported the deaths of six horses in the unit last year - some from colic, indicating improper deworming - the department has made changes. Horses are now on a regular two-month deworming schedule. The department refuses to acknowledge this, however.

Capt. Christopher Acerbo remains nominally in charge of the unit. But now he's being monitored by Chief of Transportation Michael Scagnelli and more closely by the deputy chief of traffic control, Edward Canon. Acerbo and Cannon did not return calls. Scagnelli refused to comment.

Even closer monitoring may be needed. Last summer a horse was purchased for $3,000, although it wore a bar shoe, which prevented it from walking on concrete. More recently, a horse was acquired that had just had surgery. The horse was gray - in contravention to NYPD standard of only chestnuts, bays and blacks - leading some to suspect that the officer who accepted the horse might be doing a favor for its owner.

Finally there are the two officers reported to Internal Affairs for drinking on duty at Rudy's bar in Times Square around New Year's Eve. Included in the report, which was provided to Cannon and Scagnelli, was a photo of one of the officers atop his horse, paper cup in hand. That officer was allowed to retire in lieu of charges. The second officer is said to remain in Times Square, earning overtime on the 12-7 a.m. tour.

Changing its tune. The city changed its position to vote for a lucrative job-related disability pension for retired personnel chief Michael Markman, saying it received new information about his medical condition.

Mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz said politics never entered the decision, which was based strictly on "case law." His explanation was met with skepticism and derision by top police officials, past and present, familiar with the pension process. "What case law is he referring to?" asked a top official.

Markman claims the injury stemmed from a 1993 car accident, seven years before he retired. He took no sick leave at the time. His exam was conducted in the office of the department's chief surgeon, who reported to him. The three-doctor panel that examined Markman concluded that his injury was job-related, but the Police Pension Board rejected it, with representatives of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani voting against it. "If the Bloomberg administration votes for a disability pension for Markman," says Jeffrey Goldberg, who represents cops seeking disability pensions, "every cop with an old injury can claim one too."

Paul Browne's picture. So who placed Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne's picture on the wall of the public information office, next to that of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly?

Suspicion centers on a lieutenant Your Humble Servant will refrain from naming. Browne's picture lasted only a couple of days. After a reporter asked him about it, it vanished. Still a question remains: Who ordered the lieutenant to put it up?

Keeping track. Closing in on one year since Ousmane Zongo, an unarmed African immigrant, was fatally shot by an officer during an undercover operation in a Chelsea warehouse. Still no grand jury impaneled. Still no word from District Attorney Robert Morgenthau or from Kelly. Says Morgenthau spokeswoman Barbara Thompson: "The investigation continues."

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