Hartford Mount Police
Hartford’s MountedPolice unit in front of the state Capitol. ()

Hartford police officers will patrol downtown streets and sidewalks from high in the saddle at least until the end of June, thanks to an unexpected donation from a law firm to help fund the endangered mounted patrol unit.

The city had considered hanging up the saddles and dismantling the unit because of budgetary woes.

But when the police department made a public appeal through media outlets for private donations, Halloran & Sage came forward with about $7,300 of the $10,000 needed. With the firm’s donation, plus an additional $3,000 in private funding, the city will be able to fund the patrols through the end of the fiscal year.

It was something William McGrath, the managing partner of Halloran & Sage, considered “a straight-forward response” to helping the needs of their business neighbors and community.

“The horse patrols instill confidence and make our citizens more likely to use our parks and public spaces,” McGrath said. “It is an important community service and we are happy to be involved.”

With four horses and four officers, Hartford’s mounted patrol is one of two currently operating in the state. The other is in Bridgeport. The unit was created in 1985 by then-Chief of Police Bernard Sullivan.

The department disbanded the unit in 2000, but in 2008 the mounted patrols made a return under the leadership of Daryl Roberts, who was chief of police at the time. The mounted unit provides community outreach by participating in toy drives for needy children, and making educational appearances at schools. The officers on horseback also patrol downtown areas, especially when bars and restaurants are closing.

The mounted patrol unit is especially useful as a public safety tool when large crowds fill the city’s parks for concerts and other events. But a little over a year ago, the Hartford City Council began looking at the unit as an unnecessary expense and a place to trim costs.

“It’s absolutely a luxury that we can’t afford,” said city council president Shawn Wooden, a Day Pitney partner. “We’re making difficult choices in a difficult fiscal environment.

Sgt. David Marinelli, the unit’s administrative manager, asked the council last summer if private funds could be raised to keep the unit in operation. The council agreed, and Marinelli started a drive targeting downtown businesses.

Marinelli said the unit raised about $2,000 by the end of last year, but still needed an additional $7,000 to $10,000 to get to the end of the fiscal year.

“That’s just to feed and shoe horses,” Marinelli said. “That doesn’t count equipment for the horses.”

After the check from Halloran & Sage was handed to the police department, members of the mounted patrol were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

“We were floored by how much we were thought of and appreciated,” said Officer Debbie Scates, one of the unit’s four officers.

The city has not yet addressed whether it will provide funding for the mounted patrol in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“We know how much everyone loves the mounted patrol, so I’m glad the support was there,” Mayor Pedro Segarra said in a statement. “Hopefully, with continued support we can keep them active.”•