Members of the community gathered at the stables in Long’s Park on Saturday to bid farewell to Jake, King and Angus.
The three horses were the equine members of the Lancaster Bureau of Police’s Mounted Unit, which is being disbanded.
Several hundred people stopped by between late morning and early afternoon to take pictures, pet the horses, sign a guestbook and reminisce. Food and beverages were provided at a tent nearby.
The unit has decades of history, having been founded in 1979. Mounted officers have been a familiar site at Celebrate Lancaster, the annual Christmas tree lighting and other city events.
Police and city officials announced the change in September, saying the department’s staffing shortages made it impractical to keep the unit in operation. Three full-time and one part-time officer served in the unit; having them available for regular patrols will improve flexibility and help to cut down on overtime, which is running at about $900,000 this year, Chief Richard Mendez said.
“We’re all sad that the unit is going,” said Sgt. Todd Grager of the department’s Office of Community Engagement. Unfortunately, he said, “this is the direct effect of being down 34 officers.”
Supporters have petitioned the city to rethink the decision, but to no avail. They say the unit generates goodwill and increases tourism and that the cost is minimal, as most of it is covered by donations through the Lancaster City Police Foundation.
Since the decision was made, the department has been working to find Jake, King and Angus new homes, said Officer Ben Detweiler, a member of the Mounted Unit.
“We want to make sure that they’re well taken care of,” he said. Arrangements are close to being finalized and will be announced when they are, he said.
Cat Niallon, a horsewoman herself, came to the event from Steelton.
“It’s a really sad situation,” she said, but she’s glad the department is taking pains to find the right places for them.
Meanwhile, the department continues to intensify and diversify its recruitment efforts and reduce its shortage of officers, Grager said.
It recently debuted a new fitness test course, built at the city’s Pitney Road water treatment plant. It’s designed to be task-specific and physically equitable.
Hopefully it will bring more candidates in the door and help them train for the physical test they will need to pass. The standards for the test itself are set by the state and remain unchanged.
Police recruitment is a challenge nationwide, Grager noted.
“We’re trying to think outside the box and approach things differently,” he said.