Troopers practice crowd control during mock riots at Arnold Palmer Regional
The broad-shouldered horses carrying state troopers didn't turn away as they were pelted with water-filled balloons, balls and the persistent blare of a car horn.
They were in training, as were the hundreds of state troopers in riot gear who joined forces Thursday at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.
They were practicing skills for handling a raucous crowd in preparation for the G-20 summit Sept. 24-25 in Pittsburgh.
"There were approximately 700 (people) involved" in the exercise, said state police spokesman Jack Lewis.
Maj. Robert Lizik, commander of State Police Area III, which covers Troops A, B and G, said the drill gave troopers a chance to practice as one unit.
"Up until this point, all seven troops involved with G-20 had practiced various crowd formations and tactics individually," Lizik said in an e-mail. "(Thursday), we practiced as companies, utilizing several different scenarios.
"Horses were also present so our people had the opportunity to work in unison with them."
In an earlier interview, Maj. Terry Seilhamer of the Butler barracks, who is in charge of planning for the agency's role in G-20 security, said up to 1,000 troopers will provide protection for the summit.
They will join Pittsburgh police and other officers to provide security. Past summits have been marked by protests, many violent.
The drills at the airport yesterday were held on the ramp formerly used by Northwest Airlines.
In one drill, more than a dozen mounted horses approached a group of people in plain clothes, who yelled at the animals and their mounted troopers, then threw objects at them. The horses and troopers continued to move forward, dispersing the crowd.
In another, various groups of troopers in riot gear lined up in different formations, some standing and others kneeling, while they held batons. At one point, the troopers put on gas masks.
Dwayne Pickels, airport administrative assistant, said authorities called airport officials a few weeks ago to make arrangements for the drill.
"Of course, we were happy to accommodate," he said. "It's quite an impressive array of law enforcement."
Pickels said the number of participants and the drill itself sparked the interest of callers, many who spotted the activity from nearby Route 30 and some who pulled over to watch.
"We had several calls — 'Hey, what's going on?' " Pickels said.
"I guess people saw a lot of police coming into the airport. It was natural curiosity," he said.