At 135 years old, it is the longest-running unit in the Toronto Police Service – a team based out of a stable, not a station, and staffed equally by two- and four-legged staff.
And this year, if the police force’s latest budget request is approved, Toronto’s equestrian unit and its 24 horses will cost taxpayers $5.9 million. Big money has been earmarked for the salaries of more than three dozen uniformed officers, with $120,000 set aside for animal supplies.
Amid budget constraints, the changing demands of modern policing, and calls to discredit the police, some North American police services have in recent years disbanded their cavalry units, or sought private donors to cover costs. turned towards.
As the Toronto Police Board is debating the force’s 2022 budget request this week, some are wondering whether Toronto should also consider putting its cavalry unit out to pasture. Others defend it, saying it is as important to public safety as ever, especially in one of North America’s largest cities where protests and parades fill the streets.
But with the 2022 budget request totaling $1.1 billion, which is $25 million more than last year, critics say savings are needed wherever they can.
“Anything they can do to reduce the budget is good, including the mounted unit,” said John Sewell, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.
“It’s an additional expense,” said Sandy Hudson, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Toronto chapter.
Among the most common criticisms of cavalry units: they are more nostalgic than necessary, turning out to be far more frequent than crowd control for community relations. In a November column calling for the closure of that city’s equestrian unit, Hamilton Spectator columnist Susan Claremont called the city’s police horses “little more than a highly Instagrammable public relations unit.”
In Toronto, another byproduct of the equestrian unit is often photographed for less picture-perfect reasons: horse poop Citizens say that bikes are often left in the streets and alleys of the city.
“I’m not exactly sure what the rationale is for continuing to have cavalry units in the 21st century,” said Kevin Walby, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg who researches police and security, who hears back horses. Huh. Policing of past decades or centuries. ,
Toronto Police spokesman Connie Osborne said its mounted unit serves “an integral part in both proactive and reactive policing,” with both officers and horses trained to respond to a variety of critical situations.
This includes controlling crowds at large sporting events and demonstrations, during searches for missing people or wanted felons, or targeting crime hot spots with scene patrols, she said. The unit also responds to “hundreds” of radio calls, actively patrols, and assists with planned operations, she said.
The tradition of mounted police officers stems from 18th-century London and has served a variety of functional and ceremonial purposes in the military since then, said law enforcement historian Michelle Roth of Sam Houston State University in Texas. But budget restrictions and technological advances, including the police car, have kept them “out of the core of policing,” he said.
American cities that have disbanded their cavalry over the past decade include Boston and most recently, Baltimore; In 2020, the Las Vegas Police Department reportedly attributed budget constraints related to COVID-19 to the closure of its mounted unit. Closer to home, Kingston police also cited the pandemic-related budget crisis when it axed its unit in favor of hiring new officers, prompting a community fundraiser to outshine the police. .
In addition to cost, mounted units can attract controversy, Roth said. In Texas in 2020, a video of a mounted police officer leading a handcuffed black man, slave-holding, created hurtful images, prompting the police department to apologize and, as The Washington Post reports done, a lawsuit.
But, Roth says, mounted police still perform an important function, including visibility and crowd control. Roth said that in some situations a mounted officer can be more effective than 10 regular cops.
“There is a certain intimidation factor. These horses are, you know, close to 2,000 pounds. And then you put a big cop on top of that,” he said.
Osborne said that in 2021, the unit was called to more than 80 crowd-control incidents to help manage and manage crowds. Last year, the unit helped in a dynamic where a man who was “randomly attacking people” tried to run away from police in a cab. The mounted unit used horses to stop the cab and the man was successfully arrested, he said. He also helped in locating and arresting anyone wanted for attempted murder.
“They are used every single day and are vital in ensuring officer safety as well as public safety,” Osborne said of the horses.
One of the reasons a $25-million budget increase was required by Toronto Police Chief James Ramer was to enlist the staff of the force’s “Vision Zero” team – a specialized unit dedicated to traffic law enforcement to enhance road safety. The team currently has 18 officers, less than half the number of uniformed officers dedicated to the cavalry unit.
Asked how police determined the size of the cavalry unit, Osborne said the numbers fluctuate and that the size would change “to provide a necessary response and remain operationally viable” with regard to patterns of change, discharge and considers illness.
Christian Luprecht, a political science professor at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada who studies policing, said the true question may not be whether a cavalry unit is necessary. What is more important, he said, is whether the effectiveness of the unit is being measured, and how it fits into the wider goals of the police service.
“In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively small amount and relatively few resources, especially for a service the size of Toronto,” Leprecht said.
“But this is an indication of all the resources for the police: how many resources do the police really need to fulfill their mandate?”
The Toronto Police Board is due to discuss the police force’s budget request on Tuesday.