Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Mounted Police Contract - Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end

Most people are aware of the mounted police in the Town Center of The Woodlands, Texas. Alpha and Omega is the company providing this service by horseback for us.  You can hardly miss their red uniforms that sort of resemble the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. That image generates a small town atmosphere, so the township concept is boosted by their presence, so it is believed. We have them deployed in various zones within the Town Center as a tourist attraction. Just like the transportation system, however, we tend to lead people to believe these mounted patrols serve another function, that is to supplement the policing of the community. They are not policemen at all and, in fact, cannot secure your safety. They serve no useful purpose at all in regard to law enforcement. Some people will say they are useful in spotting crime and reporting it. In reality, they are no more effective in doing that than any resident who has a cell phone, and almost all residents have cell phones.

The other day I was at Walmart at FM 242 and I-45. I noticed two mounted police patrols in the parking lot there. Then I wondered. Why are they here? Walmart certainly does not present the image we need for a tourist, and the likelihood for a tourist to be present at Walmart sure seems to be small! I have no reason to contract these mounted people at all. If I would see them only at the parks, I would be more apt to support their presence, but why do we have them in the parking lot of the mall, Walmart, and other large commercial locations? These large commercial enterprises have their own way of protecting their businesses and managing security. Perhaps in isolated circumstances, we have a need for them in events and certain hours of the evening to help promote our community. Yet why are taxpayers bearing the burden for this extra amenity? The cost of it is atrocious! Some close to the checkbook say that the visitors are paying for them and this is what attracts them here. The horses are, after all, sort of a mobile petting zoo and children like to talk to these colorfully outfitted  people on top of horses. Even adults find conversation with the riders interesting. We find that the primary functional reason we have them is to dispense information and to help people find their cars in the parking lots. 

Let's take a look at the contract. Budget time is coming up very shortly. Don't you want to know what agreements we have and the alternatives the Woodlands Township Board of Directors should be considering? There will be seven directors charged with making a decision to continue this program, cut it back or replace with a new one. I will give you their email addresses soon, although you can find those addresses on the township website. You will be able to copy and paste those addresses from this site onto an email to correspond with them.

So I want to bring this contract to the attention of residents in The Woodlands. We pay Alpha and Omega company $39.10 for each patrol hour. That is about double what we pay for a Sheriff deputy officer according to one of my sources. Behind the scenes we are also paying for support personnel at the tune of $10.53 per hour. A patrol person is called a Trooper. Troopers provide a courtesy to visitors of Town Center. They are charged with providing information to patrons of the commercial area, but if they see some crime, they are charged to report it immediately, just like a resident would be expected to do. They are to help people find their cars in parking lots as well. The contract provides for a maximum of 700 total Trooper hours per week.  Clerical support is a 40-hour maximum week.  This three year contract ending in 2012 may be canceled with a 30 day notice. If both parties agree to change the contract, the contract can be modified.

Value of the contract is $1,514,920 for 2010. Alpha and Omega was selected based on government staff criteria from two bids. The competing company bid was $1,361,370.

Alternatives have never been defined that I can find. Back in TCID days, there may have been alternatives to the original concept, but we don't seem to have a Board of Directors these days trying to conserve on spending.

What alternatives can I envision?

1. Smaller presence - For this alternative, I suggest Town Green Park, the pavilion, down on the waterway and  the conference center. That makes four locations, 6 days a week. As a rough simple cost estimate, let's say it takes 1/2 support person and 4 Troopers to provide that service. And let's say each patrol would be 50 hours. Per year, it would cost 52* ((20*10.52)+(50*$39.10))= $417,581. That would be almost $1,100,000 savings in 2011, more if we can cut this contract this year. I don't see any reason to continue spending so much for the remainder of this year. This is called "reduced services" by the directors but not in my book. I call it "service by need", not "service by want".  

2. Removal of service altogether - Forget the image. People do not come here for the horses. They come for the waterway, the fountains, the other amenities and attractions. Save an additional $471,581.

3. Drop the contract and solicit new bids for reduced presence. That would likely lead to a smaller rate since we do not have to contract such a large company to provide the services and we can go out for bids again. That might save an additional $50,000.

4. Replace the entire mounted horse service with cameras. I cannot price this, but it would necessitate monitoring personnel and a station. This is a common practice and enables visual contact with law lawbreakers from high strategic points using technology and monitoring staff to add additional security for all critical areas in the Town Center. This would require a capital outlay for a communication infrastructure but probably could share some of the county's  resources.

5. Replace the entire mounted police with bike police patrols. No cars would be required. They could operate out of the existing Sheriff building near Town Center or Constable police office nearby. A deputy should cost us about half the amount of a mounted Trooper. 12 policemen patrolling on bikes would cost approximately $639,600 per year, a savings of more than $900,000. We could probably shift some of the township patrols and thereby increase police manpower in the villages for increased security services. One option would be to take perhaps three existing patrolmen with cruisers, shift them to the villages and then put six patrolmen by bike in the town center. There would be no cost for cruisers. True, they would not be wearing red uniforms and they would not be on horses, but maybe they could ride horses. I don't know the answer to that question, but I believe the bike provides a faster and more effective response to crime or call.  

We could mix and match these alternatives. There are likely many more scenarios. If you can think of any, please let me know through the comment section. During the budget process, you should demand your board of directors to give you the alternatives considered, why they selected one (hopefully the best that fits the community) and say exactly why they rejected the others. That is their responsibility in managing your money and communicating back to you their stewardship of it.


Scott said...

I would like to vote #2, thank you! #5 isn't bad, either.

Russell said...

I like the piece of mind the mounted patrol gives to residents. It says that The Woodlands government takes security seriously.

People do not feel warm and fuzzy about hidden cameras, policeman on foot, policeman on bicycles. If I can have my security warm and fuzzy, that's the way I want it. The fact that it is extremely visible is a huge factor.

Russell said...

I like the piece of mind the mounted patrol gives to residents. It says that The Woodlands government takes security seriously.

People do not feel warm and fuzzy about hidden cameras, policeman on foot, policeman on bicycles. If I can have my security warm and fuzzy, that's the way I want it. The fact that it is extremely visible is a huge factor.

Tiche said...

I is an amazing program that teaches young adults security. Having them involved in being security conscious and learning to protect, keeping them busy, character building, not to mention being high enough to see over all the cars and bikes. Shows how the community works together to keep us safe. In these times we need more security not less.