Police Department's horse unit targeted for elimination in budget

CINCINNATI - When Cincinnati's city manager released his proposed budget for next year, it included a surprise: The elimination of the horse-mounted patrols used by Cincinnati police for years.

The city of Cincinnati is facing a $34 million deficit next year, and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. is recommending several changes to close the shortfall.

A key method for closing the funding gap is Dohoney's recommendation that the city lease the parking lots and some of the parking garages it owns to a private company. City officials want any firm it selects to operate the facilities to pay $40 million, along with an annual leasing fee.

"This is not something that is going to be snuck through, it's going to be right there in plain sight, we'll debate it, and decide where our comfort level is," said Dohoney.

But numerous other tweaks and changes also are being proposed to cut costs, including the elimination of the Cincinnati Police Department's popular mounted patrol unit.

"We will simply have to do it another way besides horses, because it's not critical that we have mounted patrols," said Dohoney.

City Council will hold a series of meetings on the proposed budget beginning Dec. 6. During the sessions, council members often make changes, adding and subtracting items from the spending plan.

Council likely will approve a budget during a special session scheduled for Dec. 14.

If the change is approved, the city would save $188,350 annually by eliminating the horse-mounted patrol. Officers would be reassigned to other duties, and none would lose their jobs.

Records obtained by WCPO show that the city spent $25,984 this year, through October, on the feeding and care of horses.

Also, the department spent just more than $1 million on the officers assigned to the horse-mounted patrol in 2010; $948,758 in 2011; and $664,263 so far this year.

Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig didn't respond to repeated requests for comment during the past two weeks.

The mounted patrol unit is part of the department's Office of Neighborhood Policing, under its Downtown Services Unit. Lt. Adam Hennie supervises the unit.

The horse-mounted patrols are a popular feature downtown with visitors and tourists. Children often stop and talk to the officers, and pet their horses.

The department's website describes the horse-mounted patrols as providing "an added dimension to policing: visibility, mobility, and travel into areas not accessible by other vehicles."

To view the new recommended budget by the city manager, go to http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/cityofcincinnati/news/recommended-budget-invests-in-growth/.

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