Police may disband mounted unit

April 3, 2009
By

DAVID TABER

Horses have been stabled in JP for 45 years

A Boston Police Department (BPD) proposal to disband its 13-horse mounted unit—housed at the Brandegee Stables in Jamaica Plain—could mean the end of an era on Allandale Street.

But some hold out hope for the future of the unit. An on-line petition to save the Boston police mounted unit has gathered over 1,000 signatures, and sources with knowledge of the unit say a deal might be in the works to save it.

A Gazette review of the BPD’s fiscal year 2009 budget did not reveal the mounted unit’s price tag.

The police canine unit is also housed at the stables. There are no plans to cut it.

Brian Adams, spokesperson for the JP-based Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), expressed confidence that if the police horses are retired, they will find good homes. “For the most part [those horses] are cared for their entire lives. They are loved, and that is continued when they are retired,” he said.

In an e-mail to the Gazette, BPD Spokesperson Elaine Driscoll said the department would consult the MSPCA about retirement plans for the horses.

The unit has been housed at Brandegee Stables at 165 Allandale St. since 1964. It moved to Franklin Park for 10 months in the 1980s where the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit is stabled. The park rangers are largely responsible for patrolling the parks in the Emerald Necklace, including JP’s Franklin and Olmsted Parks and Jamaica Pond.

The BPD has leased the stables from the Brandegee Charitable Foundation for $1 a year since 1964. John Brandegee, who then owned the estate, set up the deal in 1963. When he died in 1964, the foundation took over, said Charles Boit, a nephew of John Brandegee and a foundation board member.

The stables sit on 5 acres of the estate that are in Boston. A portion of the estate, including a mansion, is on the Brookline side of the border.

The land that is now Allandale Farm was also originally part of the estate, and is still held in a sepa-rate trust by the family. The police canine unit—also housed in the stable—has trained on that land since 1963. Brandegee purchased the first two dogs in the unit, Boit said

“I’ve always thought of it as a terrific gift to the city,” he said of Brandegee’s donations to the BPD.

If the unit is disbanded, the canine unit would still be housed in the stable, he said.

The unit includes 13 horses, 10 officers, a supervisor and 10 civilian employees. The officers and supervisor would be reassigned to other units.

The BPD proposal, announced last month in an internal memo from Police Commissioner Ed Davis, was posted on the BPD web site, bpdnews.com. Since then an online petition opposing the disbanding, started by North Shore resident Nady Peters, has attracted over 1,000 signatures.

Peters, a horse-riding instructor, told the Gazette she lived in Boston for 10 years before moving to West Newbury on the North Shore. The Boston mounted unit “is a very active unit. I go to Downtown Crossing and I see them there all the time,” she said.

Peters suggested that the mounted unit is important for police crowd control and community relations efforts. “They are a comfort to people. People can go up to them and ask them questions. A lot of people don’t want to do that to a police officer in a cruiser,” she said.

“Every city of consequence in the United States has mounted police,” Boit said. “There is nothing like mounted police for crowd control. The image for the city with mounted police is better than 25 or 30 officers in riot gear” facing off against crowds, he said.

Asked about the mounted units duties, and how it would be replaced, Driscoll responded that, “The mounted unit frequently patrols Boston Common and the Downtown Crossing area. Their duties will be covered by uniformed officers from the relevant district.”

Founded in 1837, the BPD mounted unit is one of the oldest in the country. The bulk of signers to Peters’ online petition appear to be from Massachusetts, but mounted unit fans from as far away as Texas and California have added their names. Peters said she will soon present the petition to the city and might explore the option of setting up a foundation to support the unit with private donations.

Peters has received offers of financial donations, she said.

A source familiar with the unit said he had heard that the unit might yet be saved “through some down-sizing.” A few horses and hostlers might be let go, the source said. “Within the police department itself the dominant sentiment is they want to keep the mounted unit,” he said.

“At this time, the status of the Mounted Unit is as planned for July 1,” Driscoll said in response to questions about the rumored reprieve.

The BPD is also planning to lay off 44 police cadets in the next fiscal year and undertake some other cost-saving consolidations, according to the memo. The memo does not outline how much the department expects to save from these measures, but says that further action might still be necessary. That could include the redeployment of the city’s bicycle unit—currently a stand-alone unit operating out of Dorchester—to district stations around the city.

“Federal funding made available to the City has decreased the likelihood and scope of layoffs of sworn per-sonnel. No final decisions can be made until the status of federal funding has been determined and negotiations with public safety unions has been completed,” Davis wrote.

The BPD is not alone in moving to cut horse costs in the downturn.

The MSPCA has seen a marked jump in horses “surrendered” to its services in 2008 and 2009. Seven of the 14 horse owners who have surrendered their horses to the MSPCA this year cited the economy as the reason, Adams said.

In 2007, 21 horses were surrendered to Nevins Farm, an MSPCA horse care and adoption center in Methuen. In 2008, 39 horses were surrendered, and as of last month, 14 have been surrendered. That puts the organization on track to receive close to 60 horses in 2009.

The MSPCA is currently caring for over 30 horses—including some it received last year—at the farm and through a horse foster-care program it runs, Adams said.

It costs the MSPCA about $320 a month to care for a horse, he said, and that is likely lower than the cost to private owners, because of the economics of scale.

To view the petition to save the BPD mounted unit, visit www.thepetitionsite.com/3/Save-Boston-Police-Mounted-Unit.

Correction: Due to areporting error, the print version of this article incorrectly stated the cost to the massachusetts Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals to stable horses at its Nevins Farm facilty.

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