In a move that caught police officers and supporters of the Kansas City Police Mounted Unit off guard, the department Tuesday disbanded the unit.
Chief Rick Smith told the Board of Police Commissioners that a recent consultant's report suggested the homicide unit needs eight more detectives. To get to the recommended number, KCPD is moving the mounted officers back to regular patrol, so eight investigators can eventually move to the homicide unit.
“This is not anti-mounted patrol this is anti-homicide,” board president Nathan Garrett said after Smith made the announcement.
Garrett called the mounted unit "a valuable part" of KCPD. Smith agreed with the sentiment but said he didn’t have a choice. “People are dying in our streets and our clearance rate is not even at the national average this year.”
So far in 2019, there have been 130 homicides. That number is expected to grow to 150 by the end of the year.
The backlash from the private organization that supports the unit was immediate. "Oh, good lord," said Alice Lee Hollister, a member of Friends of the KC Mounted Patrol, when told about the decision on the phone.
"That is a stab in the back," she said.
Hollister said the group has donated about a half-million dollars to the mounted unit since 2006. In fact, Hollister said, the unit was scheduled to meet with a corporate donor Sunday and had just ordered a new trailer for the horses. The non-profit group has raised money for much of the equipment used by the mounted officers.
The KCPD budgeted $633,000 for the mounted patrol this year. That pays for seven officers and one sergeant plus stable upkeep, feed and basic veterinary care.
Hollister and others argued to the board in April that the goodwill the mounted unit engenders with the community is invaluable.
At the mounted headquarters in Swope Park, Sgt. Joey Roberts, who commands the unit, said the chief told them first thing Tuesday morning that they were all going back to patrol. Roberts says he will be promoted to captain in January and would be transferring anyway. Still, he was upset. "I poured my heart and soul into this," he said outside the barn. Roberts said the chief told them to expect the unit to disband by January.
All the horses have been donated, so the department says they will first be offered back to their original owners. After that, KCPD will look for appropriate homes. "We're going to take great care where they end up," Roberts said.