USA Today: New Mounted Unit Article

Feb 11 2011

This city is as strapped as any other, but it is bucking a trend and bringing back its mounted police force.


Other cities, including Newark N.J., are still disbanding their mounted units, but Philadelphia plans to bring back cops on horses this fall — if a private foundation can raise $2 million to fund the patrols until the city can afford to take over the cost.

With recently successful pro sports teams and rowdy Saturday night street scenes, Philly needs police horses for crowd control, says Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who also championed mounted police in Washington, D.C., when he headed the police force there. The city also needs better relations between residents and the police force as it struggles with a high crime rate, and horses can help there, too, Ramsey says.


As police officers say, no one ever asks to pet a squad car.

The mounted unit was cut in 2004, its horses given away, the trailers and equipment sold and the stable handed over to the Parks and Recreation Department. Since then, the city has relied on the mounted unit of the state police to handle crowds.

In March, a series of swarming crowds of young people, called “flash mobs,” in Center City neighborhoods resulted in near-riots and arrests. That highlighted the need for the city to have mounted cops, Ramsey says.

“One horse is worth 10 people when it comes to crowd control,” Ramsey says. “When you’ve got police officers on foot marching in a skirmish line trying to move a crowd, what do you have? You’ve got tension, you’ve got conflict, you’ve got people that are back and forth and then you’ve got a scene. You’ve got a problem.

“You take that same crowd, on horseback, you form a skirmish line, and you start moving the crowd, they turn around and they leave. … It’s just different.”

The city hopes to have four horse patrols on the streets by fall and an eventual platoon of 25 horses — which would make it among the largest mounted police units in the country. (New York City police have about 60 horses, and Chicago has 32.) Nearly two dozen officers have already started mounted police training.

Tighter city budgets have hit mounted police hard: In the past two years, Boston, Portland, Ore., San Diego and Tulsa have stopped funding mounted patrols.

Newark, N.J., announced in January that it will end its mounted unit. Four of its 10 horses are headed to Philadelphia when the city finds a place to stable them.

Philly has its own money troubles. The police department took a $10 million cut in the city’s most recent budget. To cover the cost of starting up the mounted unit, the city is turning to a tactic increasingly used by other police departments: relying on a non-profit police foundation to raise money for it.

The Philadelphia Police Foundation has promised to raise $2 million to pay for two years of operations. So far, it has $200,000, half from a state grant. It’s an ambitious goal for the foundation, which until now has raised smaller sums of money, such as $60,000 to buy officers Segways for patrolling, but which Ramsey has pushed to expand.

“We’re hoping that a lot of people buy in to the vision that it’s something the city does need and the city wants,” says Bob Ciaruffoli, president of the foundation, which expanded from six board members to 31 to undertake the campaign.

Finding police horses is the easy part — they often are donated by their previous owners, says Lt. Raymond Evers, police spokesman. “We have people all the time calling us, ‘I’ve got a great horse.’ That’s the least of our issues right now.”

Stabling the horses, feeding them and paying their vet and blacksmith bills is a bigger challenge.

The city has promised to take over costs for the mounted unit after two years. A year ago, Baltimore undertook an emergency campaign to raise $100,000 to keep its mounted unit going. Similarly, a fundraising group came up with $100,000 last spring to keep mounted cops in the saddle in Portland, Ore. Now the city’s mounted patrol is an official charity of the city’s annual marathon.

It helps that people seem to instinctively want to pat the nose of a police horse, and police horses are trained to let them. “I don’t want to say it’s been easy raising money, but it hasn’t been impossible,” Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says.

Los Angeles, which has 30 horses in its mounted platoon, relies on a fundraising foundation to pay for new equipment while the vet and food bills are covered by the city budget.

“With (public) funding the way it is … you almost have to have a secondary income,” says Sgt. Mike Porter of the LAPD Mounted Platoon.