Its a matter of class

The prestige of a mounted unit within the Wellington County OPP is a matter of opinion – seen as a touch of class by many and a complete waste of money by a few.

Rightly, the Police Services Board is seeking comment about the public’s acceptance of the program. The purpose now is to determine, in part, whether or not it is appropriate to reinvest in a new trailer worth close to $25,000.

Coupled with justifying such a capital purchase is whether or not Inspector Scott Smith should continue to spend a portion of his operating budget on the mounted unit. In 2009 and this year, less than $10,000 per year was in the budget for lodging and incidentals.

Horses need riders obviously, and part of the rub is that OPP officers are the only riders allowed on OPP horses at any time. Officers dedicated to the task on any given day cannot switch gears, so to speak, making it a little difficult to coordinate manpower.

The marine unit, snowmobile brigade, and the OPP cyclist squad are also seasonal operations – somewhat utilitarian in their purpose and not equipped to multi-task on the fly. But the argument today revolves around the mounted unit.

While the merits of day-to-day policing using horses are mighty slim, bordering on impractical, we see this program as being full of promise – and worth keeping.

To suggest for a moment that its relatively insignificant budget could be better spent elsewhere to benefit “the people” is enough to cause the least political amongst us to start grinding teeth.

But, as happens regularly, the multi-million dollar boondoggles go unnoticed while insignificant petty cash items draw ire and rage because people feel qualified and capable of opining on the cheap stuff. There are many good reasons to stay with the mounted unit.

The good old Duke of Wellington, which figures prominently in everyday promotion for the corporation of the County of Wellington, sits atop a steed – not a car, not a bicycle, not a boat, nor a motorcycle. Horses are part of our past as sure as they are part of our future.

Wellington was the first county in Ontario to contract with the OPP for a county-wide detachment and it remains one of the largest detachments in the province. The leadership exhibited since its inception was showing no fear when it came to setting up programs and initiatives to serve the public.

To suggest that being the only OPP branch with a mounted unit as proof positive it is a frivolity demonstrates an ignorance of the larger picture envisioned by many of the folks who laid the foundation for policing in Wellington.

Wellington County, as of 2006, was noted as having the largest horse population in Ontario. The industry continues to grow and our proximity to larger centres makes Wellington an ideal relocation area for horse farms bought out closer to Toronto. Agriculture profits from the horse industry, as do the tax departments of most townships and the county.

In the field of publicity, animals of all types figure prominently in providing a form of public relations that envelopes most demographics. Old and young gravitate to the horse and canine unit, giving officers the opportunity to interact with the public on an informal level. Officers are our friends in most cases, and any effort to engender respect for the relationship between officer and citizen seems to us to be a small investment.

On occasion, the mounted unit is seconded to other communities in neighbouring counties. Special events such as the International Plowing Match or parades, have asked for the Wellington OPP horses to attend. As the officers and horse take part in the event, Wellington is well represented, since the saddle blanket is adorned with Wellington OPP as its county of origin.

In Wellington, the horses have perhaps not been used to full effect. Large ve­nues such as the Fergus Truck Show or the Highland Games are a great spot for people to see their detachment’s horses. Officers get a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on, and visibility counts when it comes to people behaving themselves. Smaller parades should also feature the horses, again giving the opportunity for interaction between civilians and police.

There is nothing wrong with a little civic pride and the mounted unit seems a cheap investment in aid of that ideal. Other programs like the motorcycle patrol, the cyclists, the marine unit and so on are good investments too. We say ride on.