Philadelphia's Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced they would revive the Philadelphia Police Department's mounted unit in December.
The approval brought cheers among a small cadre of Philadelphia Police officers who have been lobbying for the return of a unit disbanded in July 2004. The unit's commanding officer, Lt. Daniel McCann, now faces the enormity of starting the unit from scratch.
McCann's faith in horse patrol isn't shared by other large departments that believe mounted patrol is antiquated.
On Tuesday, the New York Police Department became the latest law enforcement agency in the country to cut back horse patrol. Other agencies have cut back the unit, including Boston; Newark, N.J.; San Diego, Calif.; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Charleston, S.C. With 60 officers, the NYPD had the largest mounted unit in the country.
Philadelphia faces mighty obstacles — constructing or renting stables; reacquiring equipment, including leather goods; training officers; purchasing special vehicles; and funding the unit in hard budgetary times.
But department leaders see a role for the unit beyond community relations. Police Commissioner Ramsey views mounted officers as valuable for crowd control, he told USA Today.
"Philadelphia has the largest park system in the nation," Lt. Raymond Evers tells POLICE Magazine. "Cars and mountain bikes can't get into areas that horses can. It's an important mix in the matrix of patrol functions."
The Philadelphia Police Foundation has promised to outlay $2 million over two years for the unit, which is expected to include 24 horses. Much of the initial funds will be put toward start-up costs, including potentially building a stabling facility that could include up to 30 stalls. The department can reuse some equipment from the prior unit stored in 2004.
Acquiring the horses will be the easy job, Evers said. The Newark (N.J.) PD has promised four horses from its unit. And several other donations have also been offered.
Editor's Note: We have corrected an error involving the NYPD's mounted unit. The unit was scaled back, and not disbanded.