The new, volunteer mounted patrol unit launched over the Memorial Day weekend by the Howard County Police Department has been deemed a success.
"It went very well, and we're happy with the results," said Lt. Paul Yodzis, commander of the department's emergency response division.
The unit, made up of 12 volunteers and their horses, patrolled parks, pathways and other locations in the Savage area, acting as a "high visibility deterrent to crime," according to a news release from the department.
It is the county's first mounted patrol. Yodzis said the department years ago tried once or twice to launch mounted patrols, contracting with a private company to patrol Merriweather Post Pavilion, for example. But the new program is something Yodzis can "see going into the future and being used by the police department to monitor the parklands and to have a good set of eyes and ears from a high vantage point."
The volunteers, who ride in pairs, will watch for and report violations and concerns, and assist in investigative and administrative work. They will also be present at community functions and events.
The holiday weekend served as an official kick-off for the patrol, with patrols Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Yodzis said the volunteers were well-received by park rangers and people on the trails.
The volunteer patrols will continue to aid police on an event-by-event basis, police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.
While the patrol program was launched in Savage Park, it will expand to include the whole county.
"We won't use them every day, but certainly at community events, or on the weekends during nice weather when we know there'll be a lot of people out in any given area of the county," Llewellyn said.
Yodzis said the patrol will continue until the winter, but the goal is to use the patrol "as late into the season, and as early in the season" as possible.
Yodzis also said the department was working with the Columbia Association to open up CA-owned properties to the patrol as well.
"The intent is to use them in parks, where it's difficult for police to get around, but easier for a horse patrol," he said.
The volunteers have no arrest or enforcement powers, but will serve as "eyes and ears" of the police, according to police officials.
Each volunteer underwent a 32-hour academy class, where they learned basic information about the department and local laws.
Uniforms and police radios were the only expense to the department.