A horse sponsorship of a different color

Slurpee, the corporate-sponsored police horse, officiates the ribbon-cutting at a new 7-11 in downtown Baltimore.

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: The stalled economy is taking down police budgets in cities across the country. Boston, Toledo and Camden, New Jersey, are among the latest places to eliminate mounted patrol units. But the city of Baltimore has figured out a way to save its street horses, at least for now. Cathy Duchamp has the story.


Cathy Duchamp: We're at the grand opening of a 7-11 in downtown Baltimore. The main attraction:

Kelly Steinhorn: This is Slurpee. He was formally named Blackie.

Slurpee is a big, buff draft horse. Officer Kelly Steinhorn says one Slurpee equals 10 police officers when it comes to crowd control. She says 7-11 purchased naming rights to her steed as part of an effort to keep Baltimore's mounted police unit going:

Steinhorn: In the past, we've had scares of the mounted unit being disbanded and cut from the budget, but this year they did actually cut us. There's a lot of communities that were outraged, and a lot of businesses that were also outraged.

But coming out of a recession, public safety budgets are no longer sacrosanct. Police departments nationwide cut costs by an average of 14 percent in 2009.

Chris Hoene with the National League of Cities says things are going to get worse before they get better:

Chris Hoene: There's always a lag between economic changes and when those affect how city revenue collections come in. And that means we're likely going to see the worst of the revenue side of this for cities in 2010 and 2011.

That means more creative financing schemes for city services, including public safety:

Hoene: So this dynamic of philanthropic behavior, help from the private sector, is I think a good model.

The key, says Hoene, is finding the right balance to sustain the services.

Baltimore city managers call the horse patrol donation drive a short-term public-private partnership. The city keeps the mounted officers on its payroll. Citizens and businesses pay the rent for the stables and cover the vet and food bills until the city's cash flow picks up.

7-11 sponsorship of Slurpee the horse will last one year. He doesn't have to wear a nametag, but put a cup of his namesake beverage to his muzzle and he'll suck it down with gusto.

Duchamp: Slurpee, what do you think? Cherry's your flavor? Whoa, hold on, hold on!

In Baltimore, I'm Cathy Duchamp for Marketplace.

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