Police Horses Going Once, Going Twice

City budget cuts have put the horse patrol out to pasture

By Michelle Wayland and Gene Cubbison
|  Monday, Feb 1, 2010  |  Updated 4:40 AM PDT
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Put Out to Pasture

NBCSanDiego.com

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Put Out to Pasture

After 27 years, the city's mounted police unit rides off into the sunset.
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Seven police horses will be sold via an online auction after city budget cuts put the horse patrol out to pasture.

San Diego city leaders expect to save about $250,000 a year by disbanding the unit.

The equestrian patrol went into service in early 1983 becoming a valuable, versatile police asset as well as a civic promotional tool.

"One person on a horse can essentially do what 10 officers in foot can do. So if you have a line of 10 on horses, you have 100 officers on the ground doing crowd control," Barry Johnson with the San Diego Police Dept. said.

Balboa Park was the horse patrol's base of operations but the unit often worked the beach areas, for crowd control on holiday weekends -- places like McGonigle Canyon, Penasquitos Canyon and other hard-to-police terrain.

"The horses can cover a lot more territory, a lot more ground, go through really thick brush and bushes," said Bret Righthouse with the San Diego police department. "Plus, they were used to the mobile field unit, so they got really good at crowd control."

The department may have to work harder to keep crime from creeping into the void.

"We're going to be challenged to make sure we have squad cars and bike patrols and other patrols in the community so that presence is still made. But again, it's incorrect to say that these cuts don't have impacts," said San Diego city councilmember Todd Gloria.

The emotional impact figures to linger, as the patrol's last officers undertake new assignments.

"We miss our friends, our co-workers, the people that are always out here, and obviously, our horses. We ride all the different horses, but we have our favorite ones," said Hector Emerson with the San Diego police department. "As everybody says, we kind of bond with our animals and that's where it becomes a little bit difficult."

About a third of the San Diego Police Department's dogs are also being laid off.

The horse auction will be held Feb. 1 through Feb 10. on the Web site Publicsurplus.com. Potential buyers can see the horses Feb. 4 at the police stables.

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