Students stopped for selfies and to pet the beribboned mane of Ringo the Patrol Pony, mascot for Virginia Tech Police Department, during a weekly walk around the Drillfield.
Walks around campus with Ringo are an effort in community police work, said John Tarter, resident life resource officer for the Virginia Tech Police Department. It’s a chance for positive interactions and relationship-building with students, who returned to campus for the start of spring semester.
“We are going around to different places on campus to promote our community policing outreach, our radio show, our self-defense class for women and men, our student police academy,” Tarter said. “How do you draw students in? You feed ‘em, or you bring a pony.”
Anywhere he goes, perhaps munching a tuft of grass along the way, Ringo attracts a crowd. Some students might even eek a little shriek of childlike joy upon seeing Ringo’s fluffy mane of justice.
“We are the only university I know of that has a patrol pony,” Tarter said to gathering students. “You’re more than welcome to take a picture, as long as you send it to your parents.”
The 6-year-old, 270-pound pony equipped with a police jacket and wearing Virginia Tech ribbons on both his front and hind-end is trained by owner Leslie Roberts-Gregg.
“I’m a Hokie, I graduated in 1979, and this is a wonderful way to give back to my Hokie family community,” Roberts-Gregg said. “Ringo has turned out to be a wonderful goodwill ambassador, and working with VTPD has been wonderful.”
The partnership with campus police happened by chance, when she was doing a training run with Ringo across campus last October and an administrator stopped to ask about teaming up, Roberts-Gregg said.
Ringo is a busy pony, holding other jobs in equine therapy. Walks with campus police only happen once or twice per week.
Tarter said those walks have helped to grow the department’s social media presence. He said he was grateful to Robert-Greggs for putting a lot of effort into making Ringo available for the department.
“It builds connections, is what it does,” Tarter said. “People want to generalize, but not every police department is the same.”
Student Aron Zhou snapped a photo with Ringo after he saw the pony from around the Drillfield.
“So worth the detour on my way to class,” Zhou said.
Asked for comment, Ringo said neigh.
-LUKE WEIR, The Roanoke Times