Mounted police losing in budget battle across the nation
The cuts reflect a trend that has been growing in recent years
By Jeff Martin
Police on horseback, a tradition that dates to the 1800s in some cities, are increasingly falling victim to budget cuts as cities struggle to maintain basic police services.
Mounted police units in cities including San Diego, Portland, Ore., and Clarksville, Tenn., have begun the process of disbanding this year. Units in Boston and Tulsa were eliminated last year.
The cuts reflect a trend that has been growing in recent years. There were more than 300 full-time mounted units in the U.S. a decade ago, and fewer than 100 remain, says Fred Parker, president of Mounted Police Training Systems in Boca Raton, Fla.
In San Diego, Assistant Police Chief Bob Kanaski says the mounted unit is being cut to save officers' jobs and maintain the ability of officers to respond to emergencies.
Horses from San Diego's mounted patrol unit were auctioned online Thursday.
"Our No. 1 priority is the officer on the street," Kanaski says.
A plan to eliminate the Portland police mounted unit and transfer some of its officers to a bike patrol to save about $585,000 a year was unveiled in January, says Jean Tuller, who served on a committee exploring the issue. Public hearings to address the program's future are planned for March.
Clarksville is disbanding its part-time mounted police unit, which cost about $30,000 to $35,000 in city funds and donations to operate, officer Jim Knoll says.
The nation's three largest cities -- New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- have mounted forces, and no plans to eliminate them have been announced, representatives of those forces say.
The Baltimore mounted police unit staved off elimination for this year with myriad donations and fundraising efforts that brought in about $100,000 and included everything from a $5,000 contribution by 7-Eleven to the receipts from a lemonade stand operated by Sophia Litrenta, 9, who collected about $2,000 in August, says Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the police commissioner's office.
The unit began in 1888, and is the oldest continuously operated mounted police unit in the nation, Guglielmi says. It costs $200,000, which includes care of the horses, veterinarian bills and horseshoes, among other things, says Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.
"They're part of the city's landscape," Guglielmi says of the city's six horses, Barney, Belle, Binx, Buster, Butch and Slurpee -- the latter named after the $5,000 7-Eleven donation.
"They're great for crowd management. They can get in and out of places much faster than police cars, especially in tight urban areas."
In Boston, the 12-horse mounted unit was eliminated last year, but supporters hold out hope it could return.
Nady Peters, whose grandfather was a mounted police officer in Belgium in the 1930s and '40s, began an online petition to save Boston's unit. Peters says the petition includes 2,664 names. There is also a Facebook page, "Save the Boston Police Mounted Unit," with at least 3,157 members. It asks viewers to "imagine another World Series without the horses to clear the streets."
"Except for police dogs, they are the last working animals in this country who are around people who aren't around animals because they are in the city," says Susan Correia, who supported Boston's police horses.
For the Tulsa Police Department, the decision to cut the eight-horse unit and reassign its four officers "was a matter of what you could cut and not impact the basic core services" such as responding to 911 calls, Police Chief Ronald Palmer says.
Jim Barrett of Redding, Calif., the author of A Manual for the Mounted Officer, has trained horses for more than 30 years and warns that once they are gone, "it's darn hard to get them back" because extensive training and equipment are lost.
Martin reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Copyright 2010 USA Today