The Texas Department of Public Safety is not horsing around with its new mounted patrol unit for the state Capitol complex.
Formally introduced Tuesday morning, the mounted patrol unit includes three donated horses — Trooper, Ranger and Agent — and four trained state troopers. It will serve the 60 buildings and 46-square block area that make up the complex, supplementing existing state police personnel on foot, bicycle and motorbike.
“Now Capitol visitors will get a small taste of Texas’ historic flavor as they see the DPS troopers on the saddle and on patrol,” A. Cynthia Leon, the chair of the Texas Public Safety Commission, said at the launch on Tuesday. “But you can be sure that the new mounted horse patrol unit isn’t horseplay. The bottom line is that this unit will provide a new law enforcement capability that will prove fully valuable in keeping the public safe.”
Two of the new Capitol horses are brown Standardbreds, and the other, Agent, a female, is a shorter, stouter Percheron. Their riders were state troopers prior to the mounted patrol initiative, and they were recently trained at Houston police facilities free of charge.
Data shows that mounted patrol is highly visible and effective in decreasing crime, DPS Director Steve McCraw said. Leon added that there are 12,000 employees who work in the Capitol complex on an average day. When the Legislature is in session, that number can soar up to 80,000.
In addition to serving a security purpose, the new unit represents a partnership among the state’s public safety agencies. “Today’s ceremony provides us with an opportunity to highlight the importance of teamwork and the integration of effort within the Texas law enforcement community,” McCraw said.
The Austin Police Department currently has a mounted patrol unit with 14 horses and 10 officers, according to its website. One of its primary tasks is the night shift in downtown hotspots — namely Sixth Street and the Warehouse District.
Houston’s mounted patrol unit has about 40 horses. That department uses a sponsorship program that allows local businesses and individuals to “adopt a horse.”
Houston senior police officer Gregory Sokoloski, who was at Tuesday's launch, said he expected the cost for the new Capitol complex patrol unit to be similar to Houston's — roughly $5,000 per horse per year. Since implementing the patrol unit, he said, the city has seen substantial benefits in three aspects: “crime, community and crowds.”
So-called "high visibility patrol" can intimidate potential criminals and herd crowds during protests or demonstrations, he said. And people in the community like to interact with the horses, he added, which gives law enforcement a positive image.
“Who doesn’t like horses?” one tourist at Tuesday's launch asked while petting Texan Star, Sokoloski’s playful steed.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/05/06/dps-introduces-new-mounted-patrol-unit-capitol/.