U.S. News

New Jersey city disbands 120-year-old mounted police unit

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Newark, N.J., police department is disbanding its 120-year-old mounted unit this month, sending its 18 crime-fighting steeds to pasture or other cities’ mean streets.

“Because of monetary issues we have to do what we have to do,” Det. Josephine Santaniello, a police spokeswoman, said on Tuesday.

The mounted unit’s 16 police officers are being reassigned to squad cars and foot patrol in Newark, which consistently ranks among the 30 most dangerous cities in America, according to CQ Press, which tracks crime statistics.

With names like “Chief”, “Captain” and “Billy Club,” some of the equine law enforcers have been shipped to a farm in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Santaniello said.

Four others will join a resurrected mounted force at the Philadelphia Police Department that was eliminated six years ago by budget cuts.

“Kids love ‘em but their main function is patrol. You’re gaining possibly 10 to 12 feet of visibility, and you’re able to see an issue in advance,” said Lt. Raymond Evers, spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department.

The mounted unit will patrol Fairmont Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks. And, if the Philadelphia Phillies repeat their 2008 World Series win this fall, the unit will maintain order at the victory parade, Evers said.

A massive fund-raising effort by the Philadelphia Police Foundation has raised some of the expected $1.5 million to $2 million needed to fund two years of operating costs for the mounted unit, Evers said.

The costs are high because the unit’s infrastructure -- barns, exercise areas and equipment -- was sold and must be entirely rebuilt, Evers said.

Nearly all of the 24 officers in the new unit, which will also include 24 horses, must be trained and certified as mounted officers, with only two veterans returning, Evers said.

“You do a week of training, you might think twice about it,” Evers said. “It is grueling on your body.”

Newark’s Santaniello said fund-raising efforts are being started and her department hopes it is only a matter of time before the clip clop of the mounted unit is heard again on Newark’s streets.

“It’s a temporary thing,” Santaniello said. “You never want anything to leave.”

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune