Last week, I wrote a satirical ad for UNLV’s next president. The original draft had a line about bonus points for a plan to expand the university’s Mounted Police Unit, which I profiled in May of 2012. Spending a little time on campus with officers Laura Silva and Stephani Preston and their equine partners, Rebel and Pride, I could see the appreciation on the faces of students and faculty. It was hard to picture such endearing animals chasing down a drunk driver on campus, but that’s just one way the unit contributed to safety at the university and police relations with the greater community.
After writing the mock job posting, I wondered what the horses were up to and visited the Friends of the UNLV Mounted Facebook page. One of the last posts, from September 27, said this: “We are sad to announce that due to manpower issues the UNLV Mounted Police Unit is suspending operations. We are currently searching for a new police home for Rebel and Pride.”
I was stunned. I hadn’t seen anything in the news paying tribute to the unit’s many years of policing football games and concerts, putting on educational demos in the quad and at local schools, and patrolling campus to promote order and simply connect with the people they served. I searched UNLV’s archive of news releases and found nothing there either, so I called the university for answers.
The official statement from UNLV Police Services was: “Due to a staffing issue Police Services wasn’t able to keep up with the training regimen that the department felt was necessary for the safety of the horses or the mounted officers.” Rebel, the older of the two animals, was retired to a local ranch. Pride was sent to Maricopa County in Arizona to serve with another police department. The statement went on to say that Police Services “would like to restore the mounted guard, but it likely wouldn't be until the beginning of the next fiscal year, at the earliest.”
That’s October 2014, and there’s no telling if the staffing issue will be resolved. Staffing issues typically are connected to budget issues, something UNLV has suffered along with the rest of the world in recent years. But when I spoke to Preston back in 2012, she said that not only the director of Police Services, José Elique, but also the university president, Neal Smatresk, had been in the unit’s corner through the toughest times. “One year [Smatresk] singlehandedly saved our unit, because he sees the community service. He sees the letters that people send to him,” she said at the time. Late last month, Smatresk announced that he was leaving UNLV for the University of North Texas. The suspension of the unit may have happened regardless, but the timing strikes me.
When I visited Friends of the UNLV Mounted again this week the page had been deactivated, but a cached version showed there were 10 comments on the post about its fate. They can’t be viewed, but I wonder if they say what a shame it is to lose such a positive force on campus and in the community, and how strange it is that the university didn’t let that community know in a bigger way—even if this is just temporary. The unit had been around since 2005, according to a recent story in the R-J, though the original was founded in 1989. UNLV’s student government reportedly gave $50,000 to fund its rebirth. Maybe it will happen again.