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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The future of the Kansas City police’s mounted patrol unit continues to be debated by citizens and police commissioners.

Cops on horseback remain popular in the community despite some critical findings in a police audit.

A consultant has recommended eliminating the unit as a way to cut costs within the police department.

Seven officers in mounted patrol are used for crowd control during parades, protests and other events.

The unit received publicity after a woman was ticketed for punching a police horse during a protest of President Donald Trump’s campaign visit to Kansas City in 2016.

Police Chief Rick Smith has said he must strike a balance in staffing and use officers in the best way possible to counter violence.

Supporters say the mounted patrol provides positive engagements with the community and helped develop relationships with police.

“I have directly seen how effectively and professionally the officers and the horses work to control crowds and give our citizens a true sense of safe community,” Judy Rupert of south Kansas City said. “To simply use funding as a reason for their end would be a poor excuse.”

A police quality control audit found officers in the unit spend about half of their time taking care of the horses, and the stable where they’re kept. The audit found a unusual amount of sick time among officers in mounted patrol: 92 days a year, which Commissioner Don Wagner called excessive. Wagner said the audit also found no meaningful enforcement action taken by the mounted patrol.

The horses and their officers are deployed to about 175 events a year, usually with only two horses. Last year the unit also conducted some neighborhood patrols in the urban core.

The horses also are used to patrol the city’s parks.

The police board president says commissioners and the chief are expected to make a decision about the unit’s future next month.