‘The right balance’: KCPD chief will decide if horse-mounted police stay or go

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said Tuesday that he has no timetable for when he’ll decide whether to eliminate the department’s popular mounted patrol unit to cut costs as consultants have suggested.

“There is no doubt that mounted patrol is an ambassador to this Police Department and does great things,” Smith said during the monthly meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners.

“This is not about the men and women who have been part of the mounted patrol and are now,” he said. “This is about, is this the right balance for the Police Department at this time and are we doing the right things to effectively counter the violence problem?”

Smith’s comments came as the fate of the mounted patrol unit was up for discussion by the police board.

A parade of supporters at the meeting argued for keeping the police horses, saying the mounted patrol has served as a critical bridge between law enforcement and the community.

The seven-officer unit is used for crowd control during parades, large-scale protests and other major outdoor events. The unit helps patrol entertainment districts such as Westport and the Country Club Plaza.

In addition, the mounted patrol is part of Police Department-related community engagement efforts such as visiting neighborhoods.

“I hope the chief decides that the mounted patrol is essential and a crime prevention mechanism that impacts, especially kids,” said Denise Phillips, who attended the meeting Tuesday. “In the minority community, this has bridged a major gap that makes policing very personal to the kids.”

The police horse unit has many supporters organized through the Friends of KC Mounted Patrol.

“All of the reasoning to keep the mounted patrol has been presented not only today but by the myriad amount of mail to the police commissioners showing concern in the community by removing this valuable important entity that creates neighborhood interactions,” said AliceLee Hollister, chairwoman of the group.

“And that is what we need in today’s world, a sense of trust and the mounted (patrol) creates that,” she said.

The Police Department has allocated about $649,000 for the mounted patrol unit in this year’s budget.

Two years ago an outside consulting firm that studied the Police Department called for eliminating the mounted patrol section and reassigning the officers where needed, such as in patrol units.

On Tuesday, Smith said the Police Department must find ways to respond to increased street crime.

“We have a very serious violent crime issue in Kansas City with increased homicides and drive-by shootings trending higher this year,” he said.

Smith said the Police Department will work more closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to attack the violent crime problem.

“We are going spend time working on the criminal element in our city and that takes manpower,” he said.

Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.