PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – By July 1, the Mounted Patrol Unit (MPU) will be officially disbanded.
Even if private supporters could find the $1.03 million dollars needed it takes to run the unit, it remains unknown, at this point, the City Council would reverse its decision. A spokesperson with the mayor’s office was not immediately available.
“The biggest challenge now is the laying off of 4 nonsworn professional staff members who care for the horses, they will unemployed as of July 1,” MPU Sgt. Marty Schell said in an e-mail.
The five sworn officers assigned to MPU will be reassigned to vacant policing positions within the bureau.
Currently, officers work a 10-hour day, four days a week, and are responsible for preparing and tacking up their assigned mounts prior to their tour of duty.
Schell said, “I will be working with my supervisors on the reassignment of the sworn staff and the disposition of the horses by July 1.”
‘This is a massive slap in the face’
“We’re hoping that the public will not stand for this,” said Bob Ball, the President of “Friends of the Mounted Patrol.”
“I think it’s a very sad day for all Portlanders,” Ball said. “We have lost something that is beloved by our city.”
Ball said it order to save the unit, the public would have to raise $1.03 million.
Since 2010, the non-profit has been able to raise $600,000, but that’s when the city was chipping in additional funds.
“There are a lot of very sad people,” Ball said.
Ball said many supporters were “caught off guard” in early 2017 when the city did an “about-face” over long term plans with the MPU. He said under Mayor Charlie Hales, the city seemed committed about keeping MPU. Initial plans called for returning the MPU to Centennial Mills along Northwest Natio Parkway, just north of Northwest 9th Avenue.
MPU had called Centennial Mills home since 2001. They temporarily moved out in 2015 because of land erosion.
In April, under Mayor Ted Wheeler’s administration, the city “changed its course,” Ball said.
A month later, Portland City Council unanimously approved the Portland Development Commission’s request to demolish most of the aging Centennial Mills redevelopment site, including the stable and offices used for MPU.
“They traded the horses for developer,” Ball said. “This is a massive slap in the face.”
Ball, who himself is a well-known real estate developer, is concerned with the future plans for Centennial Mills and the waterfront.
He grew up in Astoria and learned as a young boy “you only get your waterfront once.” He’s concerned that the city’s plans call for uninspiring buildings that will make the waterfront “look terrible.”
Ball and many others had envisioned a park-like setting where the horses would be featured in an open green-space.
When it comes to community policing, Ball didn’t mince words with the city council’s decision to eliminate MPU.
“We have lost the best community policing tool that we have in the police bureau,” he said.
The concept of community police includes having officers get out of their patrol cars and meet with residents and business owners in the neighborhoods they serve.
Ball said he’s never seen community policing work more successfully than when the MPU was out on patrol.
“You never see groups of kids, teenagers, college students, adults and seniors all clamor to go up to a police officer on a walking beat or a bike squad,” Ball said. “You never do. But every time the horses are out, people of every income, every skin color come up and talk with the officers and engage with them.”
Ball cited an example where a man in mental health crisis was hitting his head up against a brick wall. The man wasn’t responsive to officers on foot or in their police calls, “but when the horses showed up, this man who was harming himself, started petting the horses.”
Ball believes the City Council does have the funding and authority to reverse its decision on eliminating the MPU.
According to the Friends of the Mounted Patrol Unit website, there are 7 horses currently assigned to the squad.