Off the saddle: Portland's mounted patrol on the chopping block

Off the saddle: Portland's mounted patrol on the chopping block »Play Video
Sgt. Marty Schell stands with his horse, Olin. They work as a team as part of the Portland Police Bureau's mounted patrol. The unit, however, is on the mayor's list of cuts.

PORTLAND, Ore. – One of the items on the mayor's list of cuts is the Portland Police Bureau's mounted patrol.

It's something police officers say is useful for controlling large crowds.

Having officers on horseback is a safety resource that's a rare sight in cities across the country. But here in Portland the mounted patrol is out daily.

Officers say while they're rarely faced with crowd-control situations – when they need that unit, they really need it.

It's a police partnership that dates back decades.

Officers like Sgt. Marty Schell and his equine, Olin, make sure the streets stay safe one trot at a time.

Schell and Olin started riding together a year ago. Their team is visible on Portland streets rain or shine, working to create community relationships.

On Wednesday, the patrol was part of a larger police presence spread throughout the city and was on standby in case the organized May Day rally got out of hand. It didn't and marchers were peaceful.

"Based on prior history, we know that without mounted patrol – if we were to use officers to supplant them in major events, it would require a lot more officers," said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

The previous experience Simpson is talking about is Occupy Portland – a grass roots rally that challenged law enforcement in 2011.

Schell says the horses played a critical role in ending that protest. And it would be no different if something similar happened again.

"We want to respect everyone's First Amendment rights and let everybody go out and express themselves, but if there's people who are committing crimes – in the past what we've done – we've separated that criminal element from the people that are out there expressing their First Amendment rights," he said.

But on most days, the presence of Portland's police horses blends in with the city's vibe.

People come up to the officers, Schell says, not to see him but to see his horse. It's a way to spark conversations with people and is just as important as controlling crowds, police say.

Those officers and their horses will continue to patrol the downtown neighborhoods at least until the city budget is finalized.

People who want the patrol to stay and people who want to see it cut to save money have taken their thoughts to Facebook.

So the possibility of losing this resource has created a buzz.