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Reuben’s Horse – a tradition worthy of preservation

Lee Walton

My first and most memorable close encounter with mounted police occurred late one warm spring Saturday afternoon at the intersection of St Peter and Bourbon Streets during the height of Marti Gras too many decades ago to count. A large crowd of jubilant and mostly intoxicated revelers was packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the center of the intersection screaming, yelling and visibly beginning to get out of hand. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a pair of City of New Orleans mounted policemen began gently nudging their way into the crowd politely, but firmly, asking the more unruly partiers to step back onto the sidewalk and clear the intersection. I never will forget turning around and staring too close for comfort into the heavily muscled, dark brown shoulder of one of these gentle, but ominously powerful animals. It was an impressive, unforgettable vision that remains clear in my mind’s eye to this day.

The public relations benefit and perceived power of mounted horse patrols in Charleston has been an effective law enforcement strategy for over three decades. Giving credit where fully due, former Police Chief Reuben Greenberg was right – mounted horse patrols offer “community policing at its best.” He saw the multifaceted law enforcement benefits to be derived from mounted officers in the Lower Peninsula’s narrow streets and public spaces. The inherent “shock and awe” of mounted police patrols are without equal for both crowd control and community relations. Their intrinsic value transcends any lesser attempt at comparable replacement with “new approaches to policing like bicycle patrols” now proposed as a cost-cutting measure by the Riley Administration.

Charleston has recently lost too many of the few remaining qualities that still make it unique. We’re not a Denver, Atlanta, Seattle or San Antonio and don’t have to follow their every trendy, neo-traditional idea. Charleston doesn’t have to copy every new municipal governance trend just to garner another self-nominated travel magazine award. Police in blue shorts, short-sleeve shirts, trendy little streamlined cyclist helmets and shoulder mounted radio microphones are poor “light weight” substitutes for Charleston’s near 2,000 pound mounted police patrols. Charleston’s police “horse cavalry” has proven its worth for years during the many large, frequent “festivals” that crowd our streets with thousands of tourists, densely packed into Marion Square and the Market Area.

Mayor J. I. Pericles Riley’s recent excuse for police bicycle patrols over mounted horse patrols as a “cost-benefit” savings is hyprocacy of the highest order. This is the same brilliant visionary that gave Charleston a $90 million plus aquarium that’s never drawn the crowds or generated near the revenue envisioned, the Majestic Square boondoggle deal for a favorite deal-estate developer, or the Charleston Place $18 million loan plus interest that’s never paid back a penny. Given his recent plans to build a new $150 million Gaillard Performing Arts Center and the new ride-free DASH service for the cruise ship tourist market funded partly from the city’s General Fund, it’s laughable to think that Pericles is now concerned with pinching pennies from the Police Department. One would think he learned his lesson by short-sheeting the Fire Department.

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