City Asks If Police Can Go Back in Saddle
LOWELL -- Could mounted police patrols return to the city?
In the wake of a downtown Lowell brawl after school two weeks ago, officials want the city to study whether it’s financially feasible to bring back the horses.
City Councilors Rita Mercier and Rodney Elliott filed a joint motion for the police superintendent to provide his opinion and report on the costs for two mounted police patrols.
The downtown patrols would be when Lowell High School starts and ends each day during the school year.
“If we can afford it,” Mercier said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Maybe it could work again.
“You don’t mess around with a horse,” she added, stressing how intimidating large, powerful horses would be to students.
Elliott said the horses would help with crowd control.
He admitted that mounted police patrols can certainly be expensive, but he said the city should explore the issue and bring back a report.
“They were effective in the past,” Elliott said.
The downtown brawl on Sept. 14 resulted in 10 juveniles getting arrested, along with one 18-year-old. Police used pepper spray during the incident.
The videos of the brawl went viral on social media.
“It was a devastating blow to the city,” Mercier said of the melee.
“This is a very serious issue,” she added. “The youth today have little respect for police.”
Mercier later said that she didn’t want to lump all youth together.
When Mercier recently saw police cruisers all over downtown when high school was dismissed, she said she thought how the cruisers belong in the neighborhoods, not downtown.
Horses downtown could help that happen, she said.
“If it’s too expensive, then put K9s downtown,” Mercier added.
City Manager Eileen Donoghue said she will get a report from Police Superintendent Kelly Richardson about this.
Donoghue said she was a “big proponent” of the mounted police patrols. They used to be financed by a grant, she believes, which then dissipated -- and the horses got older.
In 2003, then-City Manager John Cox’s budget eliminated the $40,000 mounted patrol. Cox at the time said he’d rather see officers patrolling the neighborhoods than riding horseback downtown.
There was an effort, however, to save the mounted patrols. Donoghue, then a city councilor, was a champion for the patrols, saying at the time they “serve a very valuable purpose.” Their most important contribution is peace of mind for people downtown, she said.
The mounted patrol unit was eventually discontinued in 2007, ending its 13-year run downtown. The two mounted patrol positions were moved to the department’s anti-gang unit.
City Councilor Dave Conway reflected on how the horses were excellent for crowd control.
“It’s a good idea to investigate bringing them back,” he said.
Mayor Bill Samaras said he remembered the students liking the horses.
“They can be utilized very well in preventing dangerous situations,” he said.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.