The sound of police horses clopping through downtown could return under a public-private partnership before members of Charleston City Council Tuesday. The ways and means committee will initially consider a proposed agreement between the Charleston Police Department (CPD) and the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to outfit and train two horses and officers for one year to establish the new mounted patrol unit.
Charleston police maintained a mounted patrol unit from 1978 until 2011, when it was folded to save money.
As part of the agreement up for debate Tuesday, CVB is charged with costs and expenses for the one-year term of the deal, including purchasing the horses, equipment, training and operation. CACVB vice president Doug Warner said Palmetto Carriage Works, which runs a horse-drawn carriage tour business downtown, has agreed to care for and transport the animals. A spokesman for Palmetto confirmed the company’s involvement.
Two bay draft horses have already been identified for the patrol, according to the agreement, named Watson and Holmes. (Sorry, just the messenger here.)
CPD officials indicated they wanted to restart the mounted patrols during discussions about the new business improvement district downtown but didn’t have the infrastructure or budget, Warner said.
“I think it’s a great example of a public-private partnership where there’s a need and there was a need and there was some public entities that were willing to step up and help out,” Warner told the City Paper.
As part of renovations to the downtown visitors center, part of which is used as a police substation, an area that could be used as a paddock was included and would be used to shelter the horses when they’re not on active patrol.
The total cost for CVB to stand up the program will likely be somewhere around $10,000, Warner said. The horses and equipment would become property of CPD.
Operationally, police officials say mounted patrols offer visibility that other patrols don’t.
“They can go places police cruisers and motorcycles can’t, and they offer the officer a higher vantage point for patrolling,” said CPD public information officer Elisabeth Wolfsen.
But practically, Wolfsen said there are advantages too.
“They’re great for generating citizen engagement and inspiring interactions between officers and the public,” she said. “It’s also something in line with the history and aesthetic of Charleston, so it’s definitely something the department is excited about the prospect of.”
If the agreement is approved by council, Wolfsen said the department will develop a policy for specific applications of the new patrols.
The ways and means committee meets 4 p.m. Tuesday at Festival Hall downtown. If approved in committee, city council as a whole will consider the agreement when it meets at 5 p.m. The meeting will be streamed on YouTube.