Mounted Unit Faces Extinction

Posted June 15, 2005 at 6:54pm

House appropriators will call for the elimination of the Capitol Police Department’s mounted unit when the full panel meets today to mark up the fiscal 2006 legislative branch spending bill.

According to a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and ranking member David Obey (D-Wis.) have agreed to language that would cut all funding to the year-old program.

Once the unit is eliminated, the department’s five horses — Justice, Honor, Freedom, Patriot and Tribute — would be transferred to the U.S. Park Police, which maintains its own equestrian division.

The Capitol Police had sought approximately $160,000 to fund the unit in its fiscal 2006 budget request.

A police spokesman declined to comment on the proposal, citing department policy on pending legislation. But in testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch in April, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer praised the fledgling division, which marked its first anniversary in May.

“I think they are value added and I hope we have another year or two out of this, to convince the Congress that they are value added,” Gainer stated, according to a transcript of the hearing.

But House Appropriations Spokesman John Scofield asserted Congress’ law enforcement arm does not need its own division, noting that other agencies patrol the Capitol Hill area with mounted patrols.

“It’s not necessary given the resources that are available to the Capitol complex through the Park Police,” Scofield said.

The Senate subcommittee is scheduled to hold its markup of the spending bill next week.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said earlier this year that he planned to support the unit, calling it a “good bang for the buck.”

In response to the House proposal, an Allard spokeswoman noted: “The Senator is not surprised by the House mark but [he] has stated publicly that he supports the mounted unit.”

The mounted unit proved a point of contention between House and Senate lawmakers in the fiscal 2005 appropriations process, when House appropriators agreed to an amendment authored by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that would have ended the program.

The unit survived with the support of then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who served as the subcommittee’s chairman.