After four decades of full-time service, the Mounted Patrol Unit of the Portland Police Bureau ended operations last Friday. Because the City Council cut its budget, police will no longer patrol city streets or participate in civic events on horseback.
"Everybody wants to know what's going to happen to the horses," Sgt. Marty Shell said while riding his horse, Major, on Friday.
According to Shell, all eight horses will be well taken care of. Once the council declares the horses and all equipment surplus property, five will go back to their original owners. The oldest horse, Olin, is expected to become a therapy horse for a nonprofit organization that works with disabled children and adults. Ranches are being lined up for the other two.
In a statement released Friday, Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman thanked the unit, saying it debuted in the Fourth of July parade in 1875 and was active on and off until emerging in its current form in the late 1970s.
"Those who have served in the Mounted Patrol all share a unique place in the bureau's history. I feel privileged to be a part of that group and will always remember my time there," Marshman said.
Although Shell will make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible, he thinks the council made a mistake by disbanding the unit to save money.
"I think it's a very short-sighted decision. Patroling is all about community engagement, and the horses have thousands of positive contacts with the public every year."
Shell also is sad that the four nonsworn employees with the unit are losing their jobs.
"The trainer has been with us since 1998. The stable hands have been here since 2004 and 2005. We couldn't have operated without them. That's a lot of experience we're losing," Shell says.
The council's decision came as a complete surprise, he says. The unit had been moved out of its former home at Centennial Mills two years ago and has been living at The Hunt Club in Lake Oswego since then. But the bureau had agreed to relocate the horses to property already owned by the city along U.S. Highway 30 in North Portland. Friends of the Mounted Patrol, the nonprofit organization that supports the unit, already had raised enough money for new facilities there. But then the council cut the unit's funding out of the budget that took effect July 1.
After a short, planned vacation, Shell will return to work as a patrol officer. But after five years working with his same four-legged partner, it just won't be the same.