Members question future funding for police horse patrol

Almost a year after the debut of the U.S. Capitol Police mounted horse patrol, two key House members are once again calling for its elimination, insisting that it is too expensive and has little impact on keeping the Capitol secure.

Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and James Moran (D-Va.), members of the House Appropriations Committee who previously served on the now-defunct Legislative Branch Subcommittee, say funding for the patrol was provided in the last Congress solely because of then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.).

Campbell, the former chairman of the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee, strongly supported the patrol. He retired in January.

Moran said he would propose an amendment this year that would remove the patrol’s funding.

“The chief feels it’s essential for his ability to fight anarchists and terrorism,” Moran said. “I’m certainly going to push” to get rid of the mounted patrol.

It would add $2 billion over the next 10 years to the police budget, not including manure cleanup costs, Kirk said. Michael J. Lauer, a spokesman for the Capitol Police, was unable to confirm that figure.

Kirk added: “The mounted unit has almost nothing to do with fighting terror. If a terrorist tries to shoot at the Capitol in a car, a horse would not be able to catch up with the terrorist. A police officer on a motorcycle would.”

Last September, Congress approved a $60,000 contract with the Capitol Hill Business District to clean up after the horses.

“If you approve a mounted unit, you have to clean up the horse s- - -,” Moran said, adding, “We hired the most expensive” contractor.

The Capitol Police has defended the mounted patrol, saying that the horses are essential for crowd control because the Park Police’s horses do not have authority in the area where the Capitol Police’s mounted officers operate.

“The horses are very effective during demonstrations. The animals bring a peacefulness to the environment,” Lauer said.

He added, “Horses can patrol in areas that a motorbike cannot access.”

Campbell, a former mounted patrolman in Sacramento, agreed with the police, saying through a spokeswoman that “a horse with a mounted officer is worth 10 officers on foot when trying to control a crowd.”

Kirk, meanwhile, expressed concern about the amount of time and effort the police force uses to transport the horses daily to the Hill from Lorton, Va., at the Bureau of Land Management’s stables, adding that the officer picking up the horses is out of commission during that period.

Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) has not yet taken a position on the issue. However, as a former veterinarian, “he is pro-horse,” said spokeswoman Angela de Rocha.  

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) “doesn’t have a strong opinion on” the mounted patrol, spokeswoman Jenny Manley said.

“He doesn’t think they are doing a terrible job,” Manley said. ”No decision has been made.”

Manley said the committee would hold a hearing April 27 to discuss the Capitol Police’s overall funding.
Brian Walsh, a spokesman for House Administration Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio), said that Ney felt the mounted unit has “its place” but that the committee is keeping a close eye on the costs associated with the patrol.

Six officers and two sergeants are assigned to the mounted patrol. Five horses — Tribute, Patriot, Justice, Freedom and Honor — patrol the grounds during the day and occasionally at night, if large demonstrations or gatherings occur after dark.

A sixth horse, Liberty, was taken off patrol soon after the horse patrol’s debut last May because of her temperament, Lauer said.

Last year, Kirk, Moran and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the former chairman of House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, succeeded in removing funding for the mounted patrol in the House budget, but the Senate version of the bill, which ultimately prevailed, funded the patrol.

Kingston’s office declined to comment.

The House Legislative Branch Subcommittee was merged into the full Appropriations Committee in early February.