Debate simmering over termination of BPD's horse patrols

The 140-year run of the Boston Police Department’s mounted unit will come to an end next month unless advocates and petitioners are successful in convincing the City Council and the Menino administration that the horse patrols, used in the main for crowd control, are worth keeping in this economic climate.

Funding for the unit —horses, hostlers and officers — was cut from Menino’s 2010 budget and its human officers are slated to be reassigned to other, more conventional responsibilities. Several hostlers, the caretakers of the horses, have been notified that they will be laid off. In a recent article, The Boston Globe put the costs associated with the mounted unit at about $600,000.

Two major efforts to save the mounties sprang up almost immediately after news of the cuts was made public. Save the Boston Police Mounted Unit, a Facebook group started by BPD Sgt. Lucas Taxter, includes more than 3,000 members from across the country who support the cause. The group serves as both a public forum and a place to share news updates with other members. There are now almost 175 posts to the group’s “wall,” or bulletin board, and dozens of additional comments on the group’s discussion board. Advocates are using the Facebook group to encourage supporters to write to or call the mayor’s office to urge the administration to reconsider the cuts.

The most tireless advocate for the unit in this fight is Nady Peters, a professional horse instructor who organized both an online petition and a fund-raising organization to help with the costs associated with the mounted unit. Peters’s petition has about 2,500 signatures, half of which, Peters says, are from Boston residents.

“It can’t be a financial decision,” said Peters, who cites the investment the city has already made in training the officers as one of many financial reasons why cutting the unit is a bad idea.
While Menino says that the cuts are necessary in tough financial times, City Council President Michael Ross disagrees. “It’s a questionable move,” Ross said of the decision to terminate the unit. He believes there’s a way to preserve the patrols and suggests that, as time goes by, the city will regret not having police on horseback for crowd control.

“My first choice would be to save both” the BPD unit and the similarly threatened mounted unit under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department, Ross said. “The best I can do is to preserve the future for the units,” Ross said.

The loss of the unit would also mean the loss of equipment, facilities, and other investments the BPD has made over the years. The stables in Jamaica Plain where the horses are housed, for example, are leased to the BPD for $1 per year. If the city were to try to reinstitute a mounted unit, Ross said, it would face new operating costs that could make any such move a non-starter.

Plans now call for the eleven highly trained horses used by BPD to be transferred or sold to other jurisdictions. New York City, the town of Plymouth, and departments in Florida have all been suggested as possible new homes for the mounts, but the NYPD denies it has plans to purchase the animals.

Nady Peters has a mission for her fund-raising operation, Mint for Mounts: to help working horses retire safely and comfortably, without the threat of being mistreated or sold to a slaughterhouse. She said that some of the money donated to the charity is specially earmarked to help the horses being displaced by the BPD unit’s closure.
“It only takes $125,000 a year to take care of 10 horses,” said Peters. The city can make the unit more efficient, she added, by employing only three or four holsters and utilizing volunteers from local equine programs to help care for the animals. A meeting was held Tuesday afternoon to discuss the situation, which Ross described as “very fluid.” The council will meet next Wednesday to take up the mayor’s budget plan.