Why, in 2011, does Portland still have cops on horseback? Do we have a big problem with rustlers downtown these days? Or are these super-horses that can chase down speeders? How much are we paying for this anachronism? —Sign Me Alan
See? Any time government tries to treat us to something better than the absolute crappiest, ugliest and most boring thing possible, some killjoy comes along to complain that it could have been cheaper. It's guys like you that are turning the new Columbia River bridge into such a grim, Stalinist turd—I'm sure you won't rest until that project is stripped of all ornament save perhaps a jaunty "Arbeit Macht Frei" stenciled across its brutal, slablike trusses. But I digress.
If you ask me (which, technically, you just did), the reason we have cops on horses is because it's cool. (For the record, I'd also support having cops on tigers, elephants and great white sharks.) As it happens, though, the Mounted Patrol Unit pulls its weight even when judged by more objective standards.
The MPU's $585K annual budget is about 0.4 percent of the Bureau's total. For that, you get seven officers, composing 0.7 percent of the force. When you throw in the fact that last year, private donors kicked in $100K of the total to save the unit from budgetary-ax-wielding meanies like Alan here, you're actually getting a lot of cop for the buck.
And the mounted cops aren't just decorative; the Bureau says they make between 100 and 150 arrests every month. Since they work more slowly and thoroughly than a prowl car, mounted units are well-suited to combating street crime. Plus, you gotta figure that the sheer embarrassment of being arrested by Dudley Do-Right must yank at least a few offenders back to the straight and narrow.