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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Disbanding the police mounted patrol unit is being called a mistake by advocates for community policing.

Volunteers believe horses offer unique crime-fighting advantages that police can’t easily replace.

Police Chief Richard Smith says he needs to shift more staffing to directly confront violent crime and get killers behind bars.

Smith says moving eight officers from horseback duties back out on the streets is the best way to do that.

But Friends of the KC Mounted Patrol, a non-profit group of volunteers that supports the specialized horse unit, believes the animals connect with the community.

At a time when detectives are struggling to solve homicides, advocates claim mounted officers gather information that citizens don’t provide to other cops.

“If you have ever watched the mounted patrols going through a neighborhood, you see people coming out of their homes and businesses to see the horses and the officers,” said Emily McLeod, an animal chiropractic doctor and member of the group. “Whereas, if you take cars, patrol cars in the same neighborhoods, you see people quietly go into their homes. So it’s just a very different approach to policing.”

McLeod says the horses and their officers also are effective at controlling large crowds and spotting trouble from a mobile vantage point police can’t easily substitute.

When gangs of teens return to the Country Club Plaza next summer, police may face a more difficult task without officers on top of horses keeping watch over the crowd.

All of the horses have been donated to police, and original owners will get first choice of taking them back.

Outside of personnel, officers claim the department only spends about $50,000 a year on operations, with private fundraising and volunteers covering most of the costs.