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Kansas City mayor criticized for suggesting KCPD bring back horse-mounted unit

KCPD Mounted Unit members Sgt. Joey Roberts and Officer Mike True talk to a resident near 35th and Wabash in April of 2019. Mayor Lucas tweeted on Tuesday that the KCPD should consider reinstating the mounted unit.
Sam Zeff
KCPD Mounted Unit members Sgt. Joey Roberts and Officer Mike True talk to a resident near 35th and Wabash in April of 2019. Mayor Lucas tweeted on Tuesday that the KCPD should consider reinstating the mounted unit.

Activists criticized the mayor's apparent support for mounted patrol officers, saying it won't address violence in the city.

An idea floated by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas this week to bring back the Kansas City Police Department’s horse-mounted patrol unit is getting mixed reviews — even though the likelihood of bringing back such a unit is low.

Following a quadruple shooting and vehicle break-ins over the weekend, Mayor Lucas called for the KCPD’s mounted patrol unit to be reinstated.

The unit was disbanded in 2019 to move the mounted officers back to regular patrol because of an increase in violent crimes.

A spokesperson for the police department said there are not any plans to bring back the unit, but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility.

“The original decision to shift staffing away from Mounted Patrol was due to staffing needs in the Violent Crimes Division,” said Donna Drake, an officer and spokesperson for the department. “Those needs are still paramount and as such there is not currently a plan in place to bring back Mounted Patrol at this time. However, as changes in staffing occur we always evaluate options to best serve Kansas City.”

Still, the mayor’s argument that the horse-riding police will enhance security and visibility, and ultimately protect from violent crime, was questioned by area activists.

‘Thinking from a law enforcement perspective’

Steve Young, an activist with Friday Night Protest and Kansas City Law Enforcement Accountability Project, said that the mayor’s suggestion is an example of him trying to “coddle” police and prioritizing the department over community concerns.

“When I go to the BOPC (Board of Police Commissioners) meetings, I see how uncomfortable the mayor gets when the activists come to the mic to talk,” Young said. “There's been times where he's literally walked out of the room and listened to not one of us speak. For [him] to just throw something out like this you don't have a grasp on the community. All he's doing is just thinking from a law enforcement perspective.”

Young said that reimplementing the mounted police unit has the potential for more police harm to the community in cases where the police could use the horses as weapons to push or step on people.

“Make the police do better and be better,” Young said. “Stop trying to give them Band-Aids and not actually hold them accountable to just be better police officers — to be more mindful of people, stop being so divisive and be more compassionate.”

Young said the KCPD should work on de-escalation tactics before they get more money or patrol divisions.

Sheryl Ferguson, a community builder with It’s Time 4 Justice, agrees with Young. She believes that unless the mounted patrol officers are unarmed, it will only put more danger on the streets.

“Our officers still are knee-jerk reacting to things without thinking about things logically and it's caused us too many lives,” Ferguson said. “So I don't necessarily see a need for increased police presence unless you're training police to police the streets fairly and safely.”

Ferguson says to truly target violent crime, the city should invest more money in the school system and other avenues that eliminate the drivers of violence.

Horses as a way to connect with the community

According to Alice Lee Hollister, chair of the Friends of the KC Mounted Patrol, horses would be a more effective community outreach for the KCPD. While many comments on Twitter criticized the mayor's statement, multiple agreed with Hollister.

“It's like a magnet. If they patrol neighborhoods, people will talk to them and tell them what's going on in the neighborhood,” Hollister said. “If you have an officer in a squad car, they're not gonna talk to them.”

Hollister says the 501(c)(3) group — that donated about half a million dollars to the unit to buy the horses and other necessary supplies while it was running — has remained active since the unit was disbanded in hopes that the unit will be reactivated.

Amaia Cook with Decarcerate KC said that the increased police presence will not be good for community outreach — whether the officers are on horses or not.

“Mounted patrols do not stop violence,” Cook said. “They drain resources from our community that should be spent on mental health, housing, education and other vital resources we severely lack that actually foster and create safety in the community.”

Cook said that budget increases and new and changing patrol divisions do not create more safety, and implementing “militarized mounted patrols” is no different.

“These changes have not and will not be the solution to violence given the fact that violence keeps increasing each year. We believe that the solution to violence isn't the police,” said Cook. “When we respond to crisis with more policing we miss the chance to put resources in place that will actually create safety in our communities.”

Carlos Moreno contributed to this story.

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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