I Love Horses!

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SPD Mounted Unit Don’t be fooled, I love horses!  I ride them when I can, which isn’t very often I'm sad to say.  I’ve been bucked off twice, but always climbed back on. 

I even recognize that police use of horses is sometimes valuable in controlling large crowds of people, especially when a strong police presence is necessary to maintain the peace, such as during demonstrations or civil unrest. 

Over the past month, the Council has found itself in a bit of a pickle.  Last fall, we accepted the Mayor’s recommendation to eliminate the Seattle Police Department’s Mounted Unit (three officers and one sergeant) and transfer the officers to regular patrol duties in the precincts.  It turns out the Department didn’t do that because outside funds became available to pay for the stable management and horse supply costs. 

Now, some have suggested that I am advocating a rejection of “free money” from the Seattle Police Foundation to keep this unit. One important fact that has been overlooked in this discussion is that the money generously offered by the Foundation (a little over $160,000 a year for three years) covers the cost to care for the horses; it does not pay for the officers’ salaries.  To keep the officers on the horses, the Council would have to allocate nearly $500,000 in additional funds each year to keep this unit functional. And that decision goes to the core of this issue: how police officers should be deployed to accomplish their crucial mission of protecting the city.

The Council's budget committee voted this morning to accept the Foundation's grant for 2011 which will sustain the Mounted Unit through December.  I supported this budget action.  However, the Council will take the issue up again in October after the Mayor has proposed his budget for 2012. 

There are some important principles involved here that should be highlighted. 

  1. Budget legislation is controlling.  The Council expects Department heads, the Mayor and Budget Director to comply with adopted budget policy and financial allocations. When changes or deviations are anticipated or desired, especially on matters that received specific Council consideration and discussion, there should be immediate notification and deliberations on how best to proceed.  The Council did not have that opportunity in this case.
  2. Police Department priorities, policies, policing strategies and tactics cannot be directed or controlled by non-City entities or individuals, regardless of how well meaning or motivated these outside entities or individuals may be.  In this case, the Department was compelled to or chose to change priorities and deployment to meet the expectations of the Seattle Police Foundation and did so in a manner inconsistent with adopted City policy. In citing this principle, I’m not in any way minimizing the importance of the Foundation or discrediting their good and generous work, but the Foundation exists to support the mission of the Department and to support our officers, not to dictate policy or deployment decisions.
  3. Policing strategies and tactics, including deployment, should be driven by evidence- and fact-based decisions that will best achieve the Police Department’s goals and serve the common good.  As the Department so clearly explained to the Council last fall, retaining the Mounted Unit does not represent the best use of resources and does not help the Department achieve its goals.

The principles I’ve listed here are very important to me.  One of the significant issues those of us in government face is how to rebuild the public’s trust and confidence in our ability to wisely and effectively invest taxpayer dollars.  Adhering to these principles will help us with that rebuilding.