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Crystal River drops police horse patrol

A staffing shortage is the reason for eliminating the mounted unit, police Chief Jim Farley says.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 4, 2003

CRYSTAL RIVER -- Police Chief Jim Farley has put an end to one of his earliest and most scrutinized creations, the mounted patrol unit.

Farley attributed the decision to short staffing, as two officers have been called to military duty and a third has been put on notice.

"It was too much of a strain on the other members of the department to try and keep it running," Farley said on Monday.

The chief, who won unanimous City Council approval for the program in February 2000, also acknowledged the debate over the usefulness of the horses and their cost to the city.

Though covered mostly through donations and fundraising, critics argued that there were hidden expenses, chiefly time officers spent away from traditional policing duties.

"There was never any accounting for the horses," City Council member Kitty Ebert said. "It's nice to have, but I didn't think taxpayers could afford the nice-to-haves."

Two horses, Santana and Scout, and equipment will be auctioned or donated to another police department or their handlers.

The decision came amid discussions between Farley and newly-hired City Manager Susan Boyer. Well aware of the long-running debate, Boyer said she asked the chief to get back to her if the mounted patrol unit started taxing resources.

"What we discussed was at any point in time it became an operation issue, then we need to sit down and talk," Boyer said.

Last week, Farley sent Boyer a memo citing the staffing changes due to military call-ups.

He expressed appreciation for the officers and volunteers who made up the mounted unit and called attention to the program's achievements.

The main objective, he said, was not crime prevention (though that aspect was highlighted early on), but community relations. The horses, he said, were a way to foster interaction between the public and law enforcement.

"The public absolutely loved it," council member Susan Kirk said. "However we have to deal with the realities: Staffing is not there."

-- Alex Leary can be reached at 564-3623 or leary@sptimes.com .

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