AUSTIN (KXAN) — In Manor, Austin Police Department’s current mounted patrol facility provides a calm outside of the chaos.
“We teach ’em all kinds of obstacles, ’cause there’s no telling what we’ll come across downtown,” APD Corporal Steven Nash said.
City Council approved a lease renewal Thursday for the facility, which the department’s Mounted Patrol Unit has called home for the last 24 years.
But each month the city pays $4,500 in rent is another month it doesn’t spend in a new facility voters approved the funding to build five years ago. KXAN checked back with the city on where progress stands on the facility that will house the horses that help keep the public safe.
“Our primary use is for the crowd control — Sixth Street at night,” he said. “With my 10 years of being around mounted, it’s become obvious to me that our presence in the crowd has deterred a lot of the activity that goes on.”
As that presence has grown — the unit has more than doubled in the last decade — space has not. “We have 13 rides out here and 16 horses. We have 16 stalls. So we have no room for growth,” Nash said.
The corporal says the unit could use more riders, with a growing, crowded scene in downtown Austin. Their current facility, in addition to having been outgrown, is also, in a word, old.
The city bought land near the Circuit of the Americas in 2011 for the new facility. A year later, in a bond election, voters approved funds for the design and construction of a new structure. In 2014, the funds were allocated, and yet the city says they’re still two years away from completion.
Raymond Minjarez, the project management supervisor with Public Works, says the architect didn’t get involved until 2014. “So it’s a process.”
“It’s taking a little bit of time but it’s been progressing all along,” Minjarez says, admitting the goal would have been to complete construction within 2-2.5 years. At the same time, the city is trying to minimize increasing construction costs.
Construction bids for the new facility — with its planned 24 horse stalls — is expected by the end of the year, with a completion date of late 2019.
According to police, the effectiveness of one officer on a horse is equal to 10 officers on the ground. The mounted officers are able to clear crowds without causing panic, as people generally yield to horses because of their size.
They’re also able to assist EMS and the Fire Department by forming perimeters around them while they treat someone who is sick or injured. And they can also respond quickly to criminal activity in parks or alleys where it’s difficult to use cars.