D.C. police officials are planning to permanently stable the D.C. Horse Mounted Unit in the federally owned U.S. Park Police barn in Southeast, angering a community group that had hoped the District would instead restore a city-owned stable on the St. Elizabeths campus.
The mounted unit has been looking for a permanent home since it was established more than three years ago.
D.C. police officials plan to expand and renovate the U.S. Park Police barn at Fort Dupont, where D.C. horses have been housed for more than a year.
The decision disappointed the Friends of the St. Elizabeths Cavalry Barn. The group had waged a year-long campaign to have the city turn over a 19th-century stable on the east campus of the hospital complex for restoration so that it could house the D.C. police unit.
"Why . . . is the money going [to Fort Dupont] for federal property? The city's going to pay for it, but we're not going to own it," said Stephen Ortado, president of the community group.
Supporters of the shared D.C. and U.S. Park Police barn in Southeast said it would be cheaper and more efficient to operate.
Officials plan to add 16 stalls and men's and women's locker rooms to the Fort Dupont facility. The proposal would allow the D.C. and U.S. Park Police mounted units to share expenses such as feed and veterinary care.
D.C. officials said they expect to complete an agreement with National Park Service officials in coming weeks, and to break ground six to eight months later. The project is slated to be completed by early next summer.
The cost was set at $500,000. Police estimate that it would cost more than $1 million to renovate the St. Elizabeths barn.
"It's more costly to renovate an existing facility," Eric Coard, facilities manager for the police department, said of the St. Elizabeths barn. "Even if we did it, it's more than what we need."
Ortado says the St. Elizabeths estimates are exaggerated. His group took its plan to D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who hosted three meetings with top city police officials and asked them to look at the St. Elizabeths barn proposal.
Graham had identified more than $1 million that the city had already budgeted to stabilize four buildings at the St. Elizabeths site, including the stable. Adding that to the funds D.C. police plan to use for expanding Fort Dupont, Graham told top officials, would give them about $2 million to refurbish the St. Elizabeths site, not including donations from the Friends group.
But former assistant police chief Alfred J. Broadbent said Chief Charles H. Ramsey and acting U.S. Park Police Chief Dwight Pettiford had reached a handshake agreement on the Fort Dupont plan, according to sources at the meeting and police officials.
Graham still supports the St. Elizabeths idea but has not pressed the issue because "it's Ramsey's decision." However, he added, "My thought is, it was a poor use of our funds."
Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Gregory Greene said the decision to refurbish and expand a federal facility goes against the principles of home rule, limits the department's ability to expand and deprives the city of an opportunity to put more resources in Southeast Washington.
Greene said Broadbent had told him that the department hoped to expand the mounted unit to as many as 40 members. The St. Elizabeths barn could provide the necessary space, Greene said.
The facility could also house a training ground and accommodate other mounted units during large-scale events, he said.
"It doesn't add up," Greene said in a telephone interview. "The opportunity is there; we should get it while it's available.
"If you have the budget to buy a Mercedes and that's your goal, why would you buy a Volkswagen?"