ST. LOUIS ( -- The horses are a common and welcome sight in Forest Park, and are the most visible aspect of the St. Louis Police Department's mounted patrol that watches over the park, from the museums to The Muny.

Visitors love the horses. But other cities are cutting their mounted patrol units, using the money instead for more street officers or high-tech crime fighting tools.

News 4 Investigates reporter Lauren Trager has been looking into the status and possible future of the St. Louis patrol.

Trager recently went to Forest Park to see the stable, and visit with the horses and their police officer partners, like Officer Brian Waltman.

"Me and him been together about three years," Officer Waltman said referring to his horse, Tank. "He likes everything, peppermints, bananas."

Lt. Paul Lauer explains there is a long history behind the city's mounted patrol.

"For the majority of our history through the police department we've had the horses, so we have always taken pride in the horses, taking care of them, having nice equipment for them."

Today, the patrol is made up of five horses and about three riders.  The mounted patrol now focuses exclusively on Forest Park and community events.

The officers are looking out for anything suspicious, but only occasionally see real action. As Lt. Lauer says, it just doesn't make sense to try to run from a horse.

But, maintaining the unit is expensive.  The department estimates a budget of about $70,000 for the unit and that does not include salaries for the officers.

St. Louis County doesn't have a mounted patrol at all. Other cities, like San Diego and Boston, eliminated their mounted patrols years ago.

More recently, St. Paul, Minnesota cut theirs, and now, Kansas City is considering doing the same.

So what about St. Louis? Lt. Lauer doesn't see that happening here.

"No, no. I think everybody is happy with the mounted patrol. It's kind of a big expense, but we've got so many supporters out there willing to donate to our cause, that its never entered anybody's mind," he said.

Forest Park Forever and the police union help with some expenses, keeping the horses shoed and in good saddles, says Lt. Lauer.

Former St. Louis Police Chief, Sam Dotson wanted to expand the mounted patrol to other parks.  But right now, Lt. Lauer says there are just not enough resources for that. For now, it appears the Mounted Patrol is here to stay.

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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