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Cops On Horseback: An Old Idea That May Return

Officers have been on and off horseback for years in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Police mounted patrol was disbanded in 2013 because of budget cuts. But after concert goers got out of control on Fountain Square this year during Fourth of July weekend, calls to bring the patrol back grew louder.

City councilman Chris Seelbach says the All-Star Game and the Fourth of July weekend confrontation on Fountain Square have shown the need for Cincinnati's own mounted unit.

"As we continue to have more and more large events, we need to make sure we have every tool available to keep crowds under control," Seelbach says. "And then, second, an indirect result of having mounted patrols is that they are great ambassadors for our police department, great mediators between police officers and our community." 

During the All-Star Game, Columbus Police sent members of its mounted patrol to Cincinnati to help with crowd control. That was largely a public relations move as baseball fans were pretty well behaved.

The Cincinnati Police Department got its first mounted patrol after the Civil War. Before then, officers either walked or rode bicycles.

Steve Kramer is director of the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum. He says horses became necessary because the city was growing outward and people were moving up the hills and away from the river.

"And they annexed so much stuff, they found their foot cops could no longer patrol them all,” Kramer says. “So in 1886 they put out their first horse, or mounted, out in Walnut Hills because he had such a large area to patrol.  And from then on the mounted patrol was born."

Kramer says soon after that mounted patrols were added to the West Side at the District 9 station near Eighth and State, and the District 10 station in Cumminsville. But officers on horseback didn't last long. The combustion engine came along and Kramer says, soon, officers were patrolling in cars and on motorcycles.

"So, by 1927, Chief (William) Copelan decided there was no need to have horses anywhere anymore.  It was just too expensive," Kramer says. 

Sixty years later, in 1987, Cincinnati Police found themselves dealing with unruly mobs after concerts and outside of some bars. Steve Chabot was a city councilman then. He looked at horses as a solution.

"(I) thought it would be a good idea for such things as crowd control," Chabot says.

Chabot, who now represents Ohio's First Congressional District, says there was some resistance at City Hall, but he worked with county coroner Frank Cleveland and local attorney Robert Manley to bring back the horse patrol.

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Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
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WVXU
A modern Cincinnati Police mounted officer uniform on display at the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum.

"The three of us came up with an idea which worked, and that was to get the private sector, individuals who thought it was a good idea, to contribute to a fund to fund it for the first year," Chabot says. "To get it off the ground and then let it prove its worth."

The mounted patrol is an essential city function, according to Chris Seelbach. He calls it a tool that police officers need to have.  He says the best way to get that tool is with public and private funds.

"We've already had people who've reached out to the city through the city administration and said that they would be willing and interested in helping pay for bringing back the mounted patrol," Seelbach says. "So those people are going to be part of this conversation."

Seelbach says when the mounted patrol was disbanded in 2013, Council passed a motion to keep all the equipment. So that's one less expense to reforming the patrol.  However, there's still the costs of training and housing the horses. 

A budget motion offered in 2012 proposed saving the mounted patrol, with seven officers and nine horses, for $105,000. 

Seelbach says he wants a report from the city manager to determine the cost and the size of a new patrol.

He says Cincinnati officers could be back in the saddle and on the streets by spring of 2016.

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