University of Minnesota Police Department may cut mounted patrol unit

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The University of Minnesota Police Department is set to cut its mounted patrol unit from next year’s budget, according to University police Chief Greg Hestness.

Hestness said he is “offering” the mounted patrol unit as part of an $81,000 budget cut requested by University officials from the Department of Public Safety. Public Safety has also proposed cutting the funding for a “limited number” of security monitors who work in buildings other than University libraries and residence halls, Hestness said.

“We kind of spread it around, but of course the mounted patrol is the emotional part of the cuts,” Hestness said. “They’re such a good community relations symbol, and the officers are very loving towards the horses.”

The mounted patrol unit, which was added to the University police force in 2005, can get to places squad cars cannot and has a “bird’s eye view” over large crowds, making them ideal for crowd control, according to the University police website,.

Hestness said the final call about the budget cuts will be made by his superiors.

Hard Decision

The decision to cut the mounted patrol was difficult, Hestness said.

But he said he had to cut mounted patrol or face cutting an officer position from the department’s 54-officer budget.

Since Hestness already cut one vacant officer position last year in order to meet the 2012 budget demands, he could not afford to cut another funded vacant position because of “operating costs,” he said.

The University has suggested eliminating the mounted patrol to make cuts in past budgets, but Hestness said he declined to do so because he was “a huge advocate” for the mounted patrol unit when he worked as the deputy chief of the Minneapolis Police Department. He added that mounted patrol units are good for communicating with the public and crowd control.

“Mounted patrol units are really good for public relations,” Hestness said. “They break down the anonymity of officers sitting in squad cars and give them something to talk about with the public.”

He said people feel more comfortable approaching mounted officers to ask for help.

But Hestness said he can’t justify keeping the mounted patrol on campus anymore because it does not have to deal with the same crowd-control issues that downtown Minneapolis patrols do.

“We don’t have the same huge bar crowd to manage, and the football crowds have not been as boisterous as we’ve seen on other campuses,” he said.

Effect on Campus

The loss of the mounted patrol unit likely won’t have a “direct” effect on the amount of crime on campus, but it may reduce the communication between the public and police, Hestness said.

“Mounted has not been a real factor in crime fighting so to speak,” he said.

Although mounted patrol units from the Minneapolis Police Department will still have a presence on campus during events like homecoming and Spring Jam, Inspector Bryan Schafer of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Second Precinct said the loss of the University’s mounted patrol would hurt.

“They say one horse is equal to about eight officers,” Schafer said. “So anytime you lose a resource like that, it’s bound to have some effect.”

Despite the potential elimination of the University’s mounted patrol, the officers will not lose their jobs, Hestness said.

The mounted patrol unit is seasonal, and all the mounted patrol officers also patrol in squad cars, he said.

But police may have to find new homes for the horses, Hestness said.

“If I don’t cut the horses, then I have to find something else,” he said. “And I’m out of something elses, quite honestly.”