The City of Hartford has disbanded the police department’s mounted patrol unit and has plans to sell the animals and equipment, according to city officials.
The city council told NBC Connecticut Friday that the city accepted to sell the police department's two horses, a trailer, saddles, and more to the Rockland County, New York's Sheriff Department for $500. However, Mayor Luke Bronin said Saturday that it’s not a done deal.
City Council President TJ Clarke told NBC Connecticut on Friday that the horses and equipment were sold, but the city council was not aware of the sale until Friday. Clarke says the Mayor's administration never communicated with city council that at least a month ago a Request for Proposals, or RFP, had been sent out. Rockland was the only bidder at $500.
Bronin clarified that while the only formal response to the RFP was an offer of $500, the city does not intend to take the deal.
"The City received only one formal response to the Request for Bids, and that was for $500. Contrary to yesterday's story, that price has not been accepted and will not be accepted, and the City will most likely issue a new RFP very soon. It's important to recognize that the mounted unit is not being disbanded to generate funds through a sale. We simply can't justify having multiple police officers dedicated to the care of horses when we could have them on patrol or on the beat in our community," the mayor said in a statement.
"It doesn't sit with me well. I do know this was probably the direction we were going in, but the mere fact that we weren't given a heads up is alarming," said Clarke.
Hartford is currently facing a $50 million deficit. Maintenance for the horses costs about $30,000 a year, Clarke said.
Several years ago, the police department said it warned the previous administration that severe staffing shortages meant they did not have the officers available for the horses. In May, the city council passed a budget that assumed the elimination of the mounted unit.
Hartford police said the department has no control over the sale, and that it was the city’s decision.
Clarke says the beloved horses do a lot of good in the city and a community activist, Hyacinth Yennie, agrees.
"It brings the community together. When you have horses at a community event, who do you think mostly comes around? The children of the community," said Yennie. "We do need those horses in our neighborhoods."
"Not having the mounted patrol to me, as one would look at it, there's a cost savings, but again you take a look at the safety and security of the people of the City of Hartford, people don't benefit from this (deal) at all," said Clarke.
Police Union President Rich Holton told NBC Connecticut that they'd managed to secure donations to pay for care and maintenance of the horses and were looking at getting volunteers or interns from a university to help out to add no burden for the city.
Yennie said the community would have also rallied to help pay for any expenses regarding the horses.
In addition, Waterbury police told NBC Connecticut that a couple months ago, they began negotiations for Hartford's horses and equipment, claiming they would have offered more than $500. Waterbury police said they had no idea about Hartford's RFP and were surprised to learn about the deal.
Waterbury police say they're looking into mounted patrols because it's a good fit for the city and would help them with community policing. They said after some research, they were ready to pay at least $5,000 per horse.
Hartford police said losing the horses will not have a big impact on their community outreach but others disagree.
"It brings people together. It brings residents and police together. That's what it's all about," said Yennie.
Clarke said he has been told this is all a done deal. Yennie said she spoke to Hartford's police chief, who told her it is not signed off yet.
NBC Connecticut reached out to the mayor's office multiple times to get clarification on Friday, but did not hear back. On Saturday Bronin told NBC Connecticut that the horses had not been sold and the city would not accept the $500 offer.
Editor's note: On Friday our story reflected that the horses had been sold, as per the information from the city council. This story has been updated to reflect the information from Mayor Luke Bronin's office.