In a noontime ceremony marked by sadness, the Mounted Patrol Unit of the Portland Police Bureau was officially decommissioned Wednesday, Aug. 16 after four decades of full-time service.
The ceremony took place at the Portland Police Memorial, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It included four of the last horses to serve in the unit, most of which are either returning to the original owners or going to new ranches. Olin, the oldest, is beginning a new career with Forward Stride, a nonprofit organization that works with special needs children.
Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman, the unit's former chaplain, was moved to tears remembering the time he spent with the horses, their officers, and the unit's support staff.
"I always brought carrots when I visited the stables. The horses always know when the Jewish guy was there," he said.
The patrol ended because the City Council stopped funding it in the budget that took effect on July 1. Its last day was June 30.
Robert Ball, a reserve officers who started the Friends of the Mounted Patrol support organization, said the unit was the best community relations tool the bureau ever had.
"You'll always be in our hearts," Ball said to the current and former members of the unit in attendance.
No members of the council were present.
The patrol debuted in the Fourth of July parade in 1875 and was active on and off until emerging in its previous, full-time form in the late 1970s. In addition to their day-to-day patrol duties, the officers and horse participated in numerous civic event every year, and also provided security at public gatherings, including protests.
The last sworn members of the unit were presented with ceremonial swords, while the non-sworn support staff received plaques honoring their work. Captain Larry Graham said unit as a great crime-fighting tool, noting it had arrested hundreds of lawbreakers over the years. He also said the support staff played an especially critical role in the unit's operation.
"They not only trained the horse but cared for them, many times late at night, without additional pay," he said.
The council's decision surprised many. Although the council had repeatedly considered ending it over the years, public support always saved it.
The unit had been moved out of its former home at Centennial Mills two years ago and had been staying at The Hunt Club in Lake Oswego since then. But the bureau had agreed to relocate the horses to property already owned by the city along U.S. Highway 30 in North Portland. The Friends' group had already raised enough money for new facilities there.
"All of us wish we could have done more to save it," said Ball.
The ceremony was also attended by members of the existing Mounted Patrol Unit of the Seattle Police Department.
After the ceremony, the four horses and their riders were joined by all former members on top of a knoll in the park for the public to have one last chance to visit with them.