Austin City Council suggests eliminating police mounted patrol unit (even though they just helped stop riots)

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AUSTIN, TX – Police departments across the country are the center of conversations when it comes to allocated budgets being decreased, and even Austin, Texas isn’t immune from the insanity.

In the following week, the Austin City Council will vote on the 2121 budget. Currently, members are proposing the idea of either eradicating or vastly restructuring the Austin Police Department’s mounted patrol.

City Council members in Austin fathom that getting rid of the APD’s mounted patrol could save approximately $2 million in funneled budgeting to the APD.

While it’s a suggestion not nearly as egregious as some other cities have posed in recent weeks, the mounted patrol have been rather effective as of late with crowd control during protests and riots.

Sgt. Julie Payne from the APD’s mounted patrol unit explained the effectiveness of the unit when it relates to crowd control:

“So when officers go in to make arrests or they go in to break up fights, we will bring the horses in to provide a barrier around them so they can do whatever they need to do without worry of any of the people in the crowd coming up behind them to do any harmful things to them.”

Crowd control happens to be one of the primary functions of this unit, which is why the suggestion of them being eliminated is so befuddling considering how protests have broken out in recent months.

Sgt. Payne detailed how a single mounted officer can accomplish considerably more when dealing with a large crowd:

“One well-trained officer on a well-trained horse is equal to 10 officers on foot in a crowd control situation. And we can do that in such a deescalating way. So, we can go in and move a crowd, because they can see us when we are eight feet high in the air.”

Protests that transpired on August 1st were among those that the mounted unit help quell once illegal activities started transpiring within various crowds.

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While City Councilmember Jimmy Flannigan claimed that the mounted units “incite confrontation” rather “than prevent it,” retired Austin Police officer Dennis Farris says that couldn’t be further from the truth:

“So, if you look at Saturday night when [protesters] were blocking the crosswalk there, 3rd and Congress, the horses moved in, and they scattered. Not a single use of force.”

Councilmember Flannigan isn’t just fancying the idea of eliminating the mounted patrol unit, he’s also generally critical of how police in Austin are addressing protests and riots overall:

“We’re seeing decisions being made about protests occurring in a public street and the department deciding that now, this moment, arbitrarily, they can’t be in the street anymore. In the middle of a pandemic, where there’s no traffic, let them protest in the street.”

Although Councilmember Flannigan making note of there being “no traffic” in the streets while people are protesting on the streets is kind of a silly citation – because if people are blocking and flooding the streets then of course there wouldn’t be traffic in the same streets since they’ve been blocked by people.

From the perspective of Farris, if the City Council moves forward with cutting the APD’s mounted patrol unit (or entertains any other slashing of department units), then it will simply embolden lawlessness:

“What this council is doing is going to make this city much less safe. And it’s going to turn it into a dangerous place to be, especially downtown.”

Councilmember Leslie Pool is among those pointing a proverbial finger at the mounted patrol unit potentially getting axed. But she not only mentioned the mounted patrol unit – she also cited the K9 unit:

“We need community conversations about how animals are trained and used by our police force, especially in communities of color. This goes for the Mounted Unit and the Interdiction K9 Unit. As we engage folks in this reimagining, we need thoughtful discussion on how – and whether – we move forward with these units.”

Apparently “communities of color” aren’t fans of dogs and horses. Although, when someone is on the bad end of a K9, it’s usually with good reason.

 

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