74ºF

After 20 years of service, Gainesville police dissolves mounted patrol unit

After 20 years of service, the Gainesville Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit will be dissolved
After 20 years of service, the Gainesville Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit will be dissolved (Gainesville Police Department)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For many years, folks have seen and heard the Gainesville Police Department’s horses primarily in the downtown area, but after 20 years of service to the community, the Gainesville Police Mounted Patrol Unit will be putting up their saddles for the last time.

The Mounted Patrol Unit was created in 1997 to assist with crowd management and to offer a new way for officers to interact with the community. Over the years, the unit has seen the number of horses and riders fluctuate, but in the last few years, two officers have worked the beat 40 hours per week.

Two of the four GPD horses retired recently after 10 years of service. Current mounted unit riders will be working in an attempt to place the two remaining horses with other law enforcement agencies that could utilize them. There is no set timeline for this process. The two riders will then be redeployed to patrol duty.

Keeping a mounted patrol unit has been tough, and GPD's has outlasted some very famous ones. The Boston Police Mounted Unit disbanded in 2009, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Unit disbanded in 2011.

GPD’s spokesperson, Officer Ben Tobias, spent more than three years on the unit.

“Of course I’m sad to see the mounted unit disband,” Tobias said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to make difficult decisions in our business environment. Our horses and riders have given a lot to the department and to the community. Our city is changing, and some of the traditional methods of policing have to be rethought.”

Chief Tony Jones said he’s proud of the work that unit members have done over the past 20 years.

“I know that I speak for a majority of our residents when I say a heartfelt thank you to the officers that have served as Mounted Unit riders,” Jones said. “Your dedication of superior service to both your fellow officers on the ground and the members of this city has not gone un-noticed.”

The department will begin transitioning to a larger unit of bicycle patrols in the downtown area to offer 24/7 patrols outside of police vehicles.