CLEARWATER — The City Council voted 4-1 Thursday to create the city's first mounted police unit to patrol against sexual cruising in Lake Chautauqua Park.
The city will spend up to $19,000 in forfeiture funds to create the unit with leased horses Rudy, Smokey and Garnet.
Police Chief Tony Holloway said the unit, which will be led by reserve Officer Nancy Miller and volunteer Officer Deborah Storey, was a cheap way for police to watch the thickets of the east Clearwater park.
One resident complained in May that his 10-year-old son was approached twice by men in the park. A recent undercover patrol arrested three men accused of trolling for casual sex.
The money would pay for start-up costs, trailer mileage, training and patrol-related veterinary care, Holloway said. Much of the money could be returned after three years if the horses are uninjured.
Mayor Frank Hibbard was the lone dissenting vote, saying all-terrain vehicles would serve the park's patrol better because "they won't get injured, and they can get into the same places horses can."
It's been one year since the city pushed the closing time for bars in the city to 3 a.m., a move that stirred fears over the iniquities of a later last call.
As it turns out: Not much changed.
Within a quarter-mile radius of each of the city's 100 bars, in the moonlit hour between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m., there has been a year-over-year increase of 11 fights. Eight of them were bar-related.
"There are really no issues there," Holloway said Thursday during a review for the City Council. "We should leave it the way it is."
The council agreed, though Hibbard repeated a common refrain from last year.
"We really don't think anything good happens between 2 and 3," he said.
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Clearwater will pay the Homeless Emergency Project $50,000 to help cover utility bills at the city's largest shelter.
The organization's president, Barbara Green, said it has been a tough year for HEP, with falling grants and donations leaving a $200,000 deficit. Utilities for its housing programs, including a 340-bed emergency shelter, cost about $345,000 a year.
The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to grant Green's request for at least one year, with the option, if needed, of repeating it annually.
HEP has taken in more than 30 residents from the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project, a downtown facility that closed in May due to a lack of funding.
It also took over management of CHIP's eight transitional apartments last month.
"I know you're good stewards of money," Hibbard said. "I like betting on winners."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or [email protected]