Woodlands Township’s contract for horse patrols sows confusion about non-public safety function

Photograph from Alpha and Omega Mounted Patrol’s website.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

The Woodlands, September 15 – The Woodlands Township Board of Directors has received recent criticism from residents who want the quaint mounted patrols to continue in the Town Center area of the giant subdivision. Clearly, however, the actual contract for the Alpha and Omega Mounted Patrol, the national company providing the service under a written agreement with the Township, has sown confusion about the purpose of the horses and their riders.

In August, the Township’s Directors received an email from several community members, which included the following statement:

“Dear Board Members of The Woodlands Township – I know you have difficult decisions to make to help ensure the safety and prosperity of our township. Please keep A&O Mounted Patrol in our budget to protect us and serve us as first responders. We rely on this visible deterrent to help prevent crimes, provide security, and assist our local law enforcement. A&O Mounted Patrol is an icon of our community. We want to live in a safe place. Please honor your commitments to maintaining law enforcement in our area, which includes A&O.”

Similarly, Alpha and Omega Mounted Patrol’s website instills the image that the purpose of the mounted riders is to provide public safety, which the company does do in other localities besides The Woodlands:

“From a humble beginning as an entertainment company providing horse drawn hayrides and Santa arrivals for shopping centers, A&O has evolved into one of the nation’s most respected providers of public safety.”

The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, however, has obtained a copy of the 2015 Request for Quotation, when the Township Board renewed its contract with Alpha and Omega, which makes the following statement:

Courtesy Mounted Patrol function only as a mounted civilian courtesy and information personnel, with no law enforcement or security authority or responsibility.”

In other words, the Woodlands Township Board of Directors currently spends over $1.5 million per year on horseback riders who provide little more than a welcome service for visitors and residents in the Woodlands Town Center. With the Township’s Budget under stress, as a result of reduced sales tax and hotel tax collections resulting from the Chinese Coronavirus economic downturn, it seems the Township Board of Directors should closely examine whether such an expenditure is a wise use of tax dollars.

In all fairness to the concept of mounted police units, a recent study by RAND Europe and Oxford University, “Assessing the Value of Mounted Police Units in the UK,” found that “neighbourhood patrols by mounted police in the UK are associated with comparatively higher levels of public trust and confidence than patrols by police on foot, as measured by population-representative surveys in the areas where patrols were deployed. Careful observations of what happens when people encounter mounted police could help to explain why.”

The RAND and Oxford study continued,

“Police on horseback are 12 feet tall and a relative novelty in urban neighbourhoods. We might therefore reasonably expect more people to notice police horses than foot patrols. There is strong evidence from prior research that police visibility is linked to trust and confidence. We might in turn conclude that mounted police are simply a higher-visibility policing option, and that any effort to get people to notice police would have a similar trust-enhancing effect.

“However, the reason why the presence of police horses in neighbourhoods influenced trust and confidence in the police — how people felt about the broader police service they’d received in the neighbourhood — may be slightly more complex than sheer visibility. Moreover, these effects were recorded after a rather small amount of mounted police activity in the areas where horses were deployed — none of the areas surveyed saw more than 20 hours of mounted police patrols in the entire one-month experimental period.”

In The Woodlands, however, the horseback riders are private citizens without security or law enforcement licenses or training. In the event of a crime, they can do little more than call law enforcement personnel to the scene. In The Woodlands, Alpha and Omega Mounted Patrol does not provide the same visible police activity which the RAND-Oxford study examined. Rather, they are more akin to entertainment for tourists and other visitors to The Woodlands at a very high cost to the taxpayers.

 

 

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