Last Friday, Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw told KUOW listeners that the City Council will explore all options to trim the budget, including pulling the funding from "sacred cows" like the Mounted Police Unit. But Sergeant Grant Ballingham, the Seattle Police Department officer who oversees the program, maintains that whatever the cost, the money is "well spent."
This isn't the first time that budget woes have caused the city brass to question the unit's value, says Ballingham. As noted last month, the mounted police officers are utilized mostly as a patrol unit. But when necessary, they work as crowd control during special events like Seafair and Hempfest. According to Ballingham, it's because the unit is so "adaptable" that it has survived since its founding in 1972.
But the City Council may be more motivated to shutter the program this year. Budgetary constraints have already forced the city to hold off on a plan to add actual humanoids to the police force. As part of a 2007 public safety initiative, the city had planned on hiring 20 new police officers at a budgeted cost of $2 million. But that plan was put on hold in April.
That may explain why Bagshaw cited the Mounted Unit specifically. "That's a million dollar deal for like 5 horses and 8 officers," said Bagshaw. As it turns out, the total cost is just $676,000, according to the approved 2010 budget. Compare that to the $2,282,000 cost of the SPD's Canine Unit.
Still, Bagshaw suggests that the Mounted Unit and other "sacred cows" of the public safety budget may all face the chopping block. "Let's take a look at these things and ask 'does that matter anymore,' or should we have these police out walking on 3rd Avenue where we need them?"