Mounted patrol rides for last time

Rocky Thompson

After one last patrol, several four-legged fixtures of the St. Paul police rode into the sunset Tuesday.

Nineteen miles east of downtown St. Paul, the mounted patrol suited up for its last day patrolling the city streets on horseback.

Sgt. Eric Anderson, who is in charge of the unit and has worked within it almost continuously since its creation in 1995, will be transferred to property investigations.

He said all five mounted patrol officers will be assigned to cars on neighborhood patrols. The unit was cut because of budget concerns.

The unit formed during an initiative to get the police out of their cars and more involved in the neighborhoods they patrolled.

“People that don’t like police like us,” Anderson said.

Proposals to start a mounted police unit first appeared during the early 1980s, Anderson said, but some major donations in 1995 made the unit possible.

Friends of the St. Paul Mounted Police, a nonprofit organization designed to get police out of cars and onto horses, financed the unit’s operating costs for three years, Anderson said.

A few major benefactors and many small donations paid approximately $50,000 per year for the first three years while the St. Paul police budgeted enough to pay the officers’ salaries.

Businesspeople and groups throughout the state donated the horses, as well as the unit’s trucks and trailers.

One of the horses, Timeless Prince, was bred in Minnesota and went on to be one of the most successful race horses from the state, leading to his induction into the horse racing Hall of Fame at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn., Anderson said.

The mounted police are most visible during outdoor events while they work crowd control, but they also patrol St. Paul streets every day, just as officers in cars or on foot would.

They have been involved in narcotics street arrests, chased down shoplifters and even chased the driver of a stolen vehicle into a downtown parking ramp, Anderson said.

Until December, Anderson said, the mounted police looked forward to expanding the program in a new St. Paul stable.

But later that month, they found that the St. Paul City Council had decided to cut the mounted patrol when the unit was told to refuse the donation of another horse.

In a letter to Anderson, City Council member Kathy Lantry, 7th Ward, outlined the council’s reasons.

“As you may know from past budget cycles this council has pushed to have more officers on the street patrolling our neighborhoods Ö to disband the mounted patrol helps achieve this goal,” she wrote in the February letter.

Lantry said Tuesday the decision to cut the mounted police was not just to save the $50,000 per year in operating costs.

She said St. Paul is budgeted for approximately 300 officers patrolling the streets and had budgeted approximately $400,000 for the mounted unit.

Taking the five officers from the mounted patrol and putting them in open spots for which the city has already budgeted will free up the $400,000 formerly allocated for the mounted patrol.

“How do we get the most bang for our officer buck?” she said.

The city did not pay the mounted patrol officers extra, though Anderson said their jobs were highly specialized.

He said after they are transferred, two of his former officers will receive differential pay for working at night and make a little more than while they were on the mounted patrol.

Anderson said the horses will probably eventually be returned to the people who donated them, but his commander told him Monday to keep them around for a while.

“The last word I got from my commander is we are not getting rid of the horses,” he said.

The $350 per month the department pays to board each horse is already contracted though May, Anderson said, though the department might break the deal early.

He said his commander requested two officers to patrol on horseback during St. Patrick’s Day in downtown St. Paul.

Anderson said the horses would be ready, but he has no officers to put on them.

Since the mounted officers have all been assigned to the same district, he said, it would be impossible to pull them all off duty for special events.

Following the City Council decision, Anderson could only shrug and raise his hands.

“They made the decision to get rid of us,” he said.

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