The City of Boston Park Rangers mounted unit will likely join the Boston Police Department (BPD) horse patrol unit riding off into the sunset this summer, the victim of budget cuts.
The Fiscal Year 2010 city budget Mayor Thomas Menino submitted to the City Council this month includes defunding the eight-horse Park Rangers mounted unit housed at Franklin Park. The BPD had previously announced plans to disband its 12-horse mounted police unit, stabled at Brandegee Estates on the Jamaica Plain/Brookline border.
Local parks advocate Sam Sherwood told the Gazette that the rangers have played an important role in re-vitalizing Boston’s parks in the last 40 years. “In the late 1970s, the Emerald Necklace was in disre-pair…[Jamaica Pond] was a home for disposable syringes. But there has been a renaissance, and part of that has been the Park Ranger program.”
Sherwood told the Gazette he is hoping to start a fund-raising and advocacy campaign to save the rangers mounted unit. He said he does not see private funding as a long-term strategy for maintaining the unit, but that it would be hard to restart the unit once it is disbanded.
Christine Poff, head of the non-profit Franklin Park Coalition, was not happy to hear about the disband-ing of the unit.
“I guess in the city’s mind, it is better to keep people than horses, but this really undercuts [law en-forcement’s] ability to police parks,” she told the Gazette.
Menino expressed regret about losing the units at a lunch with neighborhood newspaper editors April 16. “I am the biggest fan of the mounted police,” he said. “People feel a sense of calm when they see mounted officers.”
Boston Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Mary Hines told the Gazette the decision to disband the unit came down to “horses or personnel.” The Parks Department oversees the Park Rangers.
Horse patrols play a crucial role in policing the 485-acre, densely wooded Franklin Park, Poff said. “It’s the only way to patrol off the paths.”
The mounted rangers, she said, have been particularly helpful in curbing quality-of-life crimes in the park like drinking and drug-dealing.
With the summer coming, and the economic downturn keeping people from taking vacations, creating a situa-tion where people feel less safe in the park “undermines the health of all of Boston…It’s going to be a long, hot summer and we want people to feel comfortable in the park,” Poff said.
Both the BPD and rangers units do important work in the parks, Poff said. The BPD mounted officers were helpful in deterring off-road motorcycle riding in the park last summer, she said.
The rangers also team up with mounted police when horses are called in for crowd control “when there are parades downtown or when the Red Sox won the World Series,” Hines said.
Unlike the BPD mounted unit, which employs 10 civilian hostlers to take care of 12 horses, the Park Rang-ers unit is cared for entirely by the rangers themselves, Hines said.
Because of that, the BPD unit’s price tag was $592,000 this year and the Park Ranger’s was $80,000, Mayor’s Office spokesperson Nick Martin told the Gazette.
But, Hines said, freeing the rangers from stable duty would mean they have more time to devote to other responsibilities.
“There will more hours for deployment. [Rangers] will be able to spend more time in the field,” she said. In addition to public safety, the rangers also provide educational programs and visitor services at Boston parks, according to the City of Boston web site.
Citing an April 27 Boston Globe article about a retired Boston Redevelopment Authority employee collect-ing a $97,000 pension while drawing over $100,000 a year as a part time consultant for the agency, Sherwood said it seems like $80,000 to maintain the Park Rangers unit would be “chump change” for the city.
But at the same time, he would be willing to work to find private funding if that is what is necessary. “I don’t want to wait until the last minute and see this thing dead on the vine,” he said. “I want to make sure the Park Rangers mounted unit continues to be viable.”
A number of citywide parks advocacy groups—including JP-based Emerald Necklace Conservancy—are currently working on strategies, he said.
The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) weighed in on the issue at its April 28 meeting at the Nate Smith House, resolving to draft a letter to Menino opposing the dissolution of both horse units. At the meeting, JPNC member Carlos Icaza handed out stickers reading “We Support Boston Park Rangers” and featuring an image of a Park Ranger on a horse.
North Shore resident Nady Peters, who in March started an on-line petition to save the BPD mounted unit, said she has gathered over 1,500 signatures and is meeting with city councilors about saving that unit.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the BPD budget May 5, 9:30 a.m. at City Hall.
Sandra Storey and John Ruch contributed to this article.