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Councilor, police commissioner spar at horse unit hearing

William Evans missing hearing chafes Stephen Murphy

The Mounted Police Unit was ended in 2009 because of budget constraints.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

The Mounted Police Unit was ended in 2009 because of budget constraints.

Councilor at Large Stephen Murphy seethed Tuesday when he did not see Police Commissioner William B. Evans waiting to testify in council chambers at Boston City Hall.

Murphy, head of the Public Safety Committee, had called Evans to a hearing to discuss the return of the long-defunct Mounted Police Unit. But Evans, planning a slew of summer safety initiatives, was not there.

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Instead, Evans sent a pair of police specialists to address the council.

Murphy felt affronted, and in a moment of high council drama, the long-serving councilor let his anger flow.

He read passages of a little used Massachusetts law that gives the council subpoena power and then ordered a council messenger to go to police headquarters and get Evans.

“This is a sad day in the Police Department,’’ huffed Murphy, before he called a recess to wait for Evans’s response.

More than 35 minutes after the start of the hearing, Murphy tapped his gavel twice to signal the end of the recess, and an angry-looking Evans arrived, saying he had spent the morning huddled with his commanders preparing to launch a major city antiviolence effort. And now he was in City Hall.

‘I’m trying to prevent kids from getting shot in the streets.’

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“I’m trying to prevent kids from getting shot on the streets,’’ Evans said, composing himself. “That was where my priorities were.”

The incident — initiated in a dialogue over reviving a costly, sentimental Mounted Police Unit — showcased a rare moment in which a councilor clashed with the city’s well-
respected police commissioner. It was, as one political observer called it, a face off.

Councilor at Large Stephen Murphy (left) and Police Commissioner William Evans.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff; Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Councilor at Large Stephen Murphy (left) and Police Commissioner William Evans.

As the meeting got underway, tensions waned and both Evans and Murphy talked horses.

The Mounted Police Unit was quashed in 2009 by Thomas M. Menino, the former mayor, because of budget constraints. The horses were adored by children and lovers of Boston of yore. But while they were good for community policing, the animals were not seen as an effective crime-fighting tool.

Julia H. Donahue, president of the fund-raising group benefitting the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit, said the police horses would be a boon for the city.

“The horses bring an excitement and an energy that is needed in this city,’’ she told the council.

During the meeting, one of Evans’s experts on the topic did most of the talking. Captain Pat Crossen of special operations, which would be in charge of the horse unit, said it would cost an estimated $2 million, including $1.6 million for personnel, to revive a unit of five to seven horses. The unit would need carriages, gear, and, of course, horses. Evans said that the Police Department hopes it will cost much less. “We are looking at the most cost-effective way” to do this, Evans said.

After the meeting, Evans, a 33-year police veteran explained why he was not present for the start of the hearing. He said he received an e-mail last week notifying him to attend, but he had already scheduled a meeting with his captains about the safety effort.

Evans said, through his spokesman, that he contacted his legal team, who then notified city government liaison Chris English that Evans would not attend the hearing but that he would send Crossen and Lieutenant Paul O’Connor on his behalf.

On Tuesday morning, Evans met with his commanders on the summer safety plan and was driving to an event on the topic, when a city aide called him and told him of Murphy’s demand, police and council officials said.

“I had asked the captain and the lieutenant to come, and I thought that was fine,” Evans said. “But Steve Murphy wanted me here.”

Murphy, an 18-year member of the council, said he notified Evans and police Sergeant George Survillo, the former supervisor of the Mounted Police Unit, to speak at the hearing. He said in 2009, after the unit was disbanded, that he tried to get answers from the Police Department, but the commanders who appeared before councilors could not answer their questions.

So, he said, when he started the hearing and did not see Survillo or Evans, he was more than a little miffed.

“I thought, well, this is complete disrespect to me, as a former council president and as chairman of the Public Safety Committee,’’ Murphy said.

The Hyde Park councilor said he felt he did the right thing by pushing to get Evans to appear. He blamed Evans’s legal team for advising him against coming to the hearing.

Evans shrugged off the incident, saying he did not think anything of it and is not going to make a big deal out of it.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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