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Mounted police cut tough call, Davis says

Disbanding unit will save $700,000

By Matt Collette
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2009
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Boston’s police commissioner defended yesterday his plan to dismantle the department’s mounted unit, which has emerged as a symbol of the deep cuts the city is being forced to make in next year’s budget.

“Just like an umpire in baseball, you might not like every call,’’ Commissioner Edward F. Davis said at a Boston City Council hearing. “But that’s the decision we made. I had to choose between animals and people, and I chose people.’’

Davis said that his department, slated for significant reductions under Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s budget proposal, needed to cut costs for the coming fiscal year, which begins next week. Eliminating the mounted unit will save the department an estimated $700,000 annually, he said. The City Council still has to approve the budget.

“On July 1, I have no money to feed these horses,’’ Davis said.

The mounted unit, the nation’s first, was founded in 1873.

Proponents of keeping the horses in Boston, including residents across the city and some in the police force, said the horses can do work that officers on foot or in patrol cars cannot.

“I am a political activist and, I must admit, I have been on the other side of a mounted unit,’’ said Stephen Baird, a street performer. “They are effective, and they are efficient.’’

Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, said his members were heartbroken that the mounted unit is being disbanded.

The horses, he said, are highly effective in controlling crowds.

“Nobody’s going to fight with a horse, nobody,’’ Nee said. “You can’t replace the work these horses do with 100 men.’’

Councilor John M. Tobin Jr. said his constituents have reacted strongly to news that the city’s 12 horses will be sent away.

“It’s the number one budget issue - number two’s not even close - in the calls, e-mails, and conversations I’ve had with constituents,’’ he said.

The horses will be sent to the New York City Police Department, the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, and private organizations.

Davis said the contracts, which had not been finalized by yesterday, will include provisions to bring the horses back if the city’s finances improve.

The sergeant and nine officers in the mounted unit will be given new assignments in the city.

The mounted unit’s patrols will be taken over by police officers on bicycles, Davis said.

Matt Collette can be reached at mpcollette@globe.com.