Bolstered by an unexpected gift of $495,000 from a philanthropic organization, the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday approved a proposal to create a full-time mounted patrol unit for the Police Department.
The commission action, which must be affirmed by the City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley, would initially create a 32-officer mounted posse to replace the volunteer unit that was formed in 1981.
The 3-0 commission vote came as a great relief to the mounted officers, who volunteered their own horses and services at many public events but had to pay for almost all the expenses they incurred.
"The experiment had gone on long enough," Lt. David Aikens, the volunteer unit's commander, said after the vote. "We just said, 'Hey, we've run out of money. We just can't pull this on our own anymore.' "
The proposed full-time unit was rejected two years ago because of money considerations, despite the volunteer unit's acknowledged success at suppressing crime at beaches, shopping centers, parks and in downtown Los Angeles.
Although the commission's action earmarked $729,000 in city funds to establish the unit, a $495,000 gift from the Beverly Hills-based Ahmanson Foundation seemed to sway the Police Department and the commission.
Robert H. Ahmanson, chairman of the foundation's board, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he decided to donate the money to purchase stables for the police unit after reading about the volunteer squad's financial plight in The Times.
"This is something we can move on as a foundation, where it would take the city months to decide what to do, and by that time, it would be gone," he said.
The foundation, he said, has agreed to purchase the Los Feliz Stables in Atwater, near Griffith Park, and donate the two-acre parcel to the city. The stables are adjacent to a 1 1/2-acre vacant lot owned by the city Recreation and Parks Department. Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Robert Vernon said the two lots together would be ideal for the unit.
The stables went on sale after one of the owners, Ashkenazy Enterprises of Los Angeles, a real estate firm that owns a number of luxury hotels, filed for protection from creditors in Los Angeles federal Bankruptcy Court last year.
Ahmanson said escrow on the property will close after a federal bankruptcy judge approves the petition from Ashkenazy Enterprises. A hearing on the matter is set for Dec. 14.
At Tuesday's commission meeting, the purchase of the stables was supported by representatives of homeowners groups in nearby Los Feliz and Atwater.
The stables' location near Griffith Park would be a "great deterrent for any kind of crime or unacceptable behavior" there, said Osa Magda Jensen of the Los Feliz Homeowners Assn.
For the most part, the mounted unit has been out of action since July 1, when officers decided that the cost of transporting their horses and equipment to more than 130 events a year was too much of a financial burden. The unit saw duty during Pope John Paul II's visit in September and the Hollywood Christmas Parade on Nov. 29.
Officers were paid for their time and reimbursed at the rate of 25 cents a mile to get their horses to work sites. But the amount of mounted patrol details has increased from nine, when the unit was created, to 134 so far this year.
Under the commission-approved proposal, the $729,000 allocation would pay for the purchase of 40 horses and equipment, construction of new stables in Atwater and vehicles to transport the horses.
Additional funds have been set aside for maintenance and equipment, salary upgrading for the 32 permanent positions and for five custodial service attendants to look after the horses.
Aikens said the officers initially will continue to ride their own animals until the new mounts are bought and trained.
"That could take 14 to 18 months," he said.