Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 42° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Volunteer equine mounted patrol works to prevent crime

The vast parking lot surrounding the Spokane Valley Mall is perhaps one of the last places you’d expect to see a horse.

But in May, the volunteer organization that assists the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office began regular began equine patrols in the lot.

Mounted patrol member Marla Stark, who recently moved to the area from Los Angeles County, brought the idea with her from California.

“We did it all the time in California and I thought, why not here?” Stark said.

She added that mounted patrol volunteers in Los Angeles County had to do at least four hours of mall patrol before they were allowed to do anything else.

Stark contacted Spokane Valley Mall and got a positive response, she said.

The volunteer patrol is a division of the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort. The unit is more commonly found on trails in recreational areas like Riverside State Park, where riders carry first-aid kits and check in with hikers and cyclists they meet along the way.

Debbie Dunlop, the secretary-treasurer of the group, last week led five riders on two loops around the mall.

“We do look for bad guys,” Dunlop said, astride her husband’s horse, Leroy. “And we just sort of check in with people and visit and let them pet the horses if they want to.”

Diners sitting outside at Twigs and Azteca Mexican Restaurant looked up in surprise as the group rode by.

Families with children came up to pet the horses. Some asked to have their picture taken. And the patrol horses just roll with it all.

“It takes a very well-trained horse to do this,” Dunlop said. “No horse is 100 percent bomb-proof.”

Horses respond to imagined dangers such as sandwich boards, manhole covers and sewer grates by trying to run away – not an ideal scenario in a busy mall parking lot.

“By training, you teach the horse to deal with his emotions without running away,” Dunlop said while she was saddling up Leroy, who didn’t seem the least bit concerned.

“People don’t think of how spooky all these things can be to horses,” Dunlop said. “Not all horses are cut out for this.”

The SCOPE Mounted Patrol puts on a “de-spook clinic” once a year where professional trainers help riders and their mounts get used to common sights such as tarps flapping in the wind, fireworks and blaring police sirens.

This year’s clinic was held in June.

Patrol members haul in their own horses and pay for their own gas, vehicle and horse maintenance.

“Horses are expensive to own and people sacrifice a lot to be able to own a horse,” Dunlop said, adding that the mounted patrol tries to help members with gift cards for gas when possible.

Thursday evening, a nearby retailer asked for the patrol to stop by because there had been some shoplifting incidents.

Dunlop waves at people and hands out trading cards with patrol members’ horses on them, as she rides along.

Two other patrol members help a woman find her car in the huge parking lot.

Mall workers stop by with apples for the horses.

Spokane Valley Mall has its own security staff which patrols during mall hours and responds to shoplifters and other instances where shoppers need help.

Malls in Houston, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles County are just some of the places where mounted horse patrols are becoming increasingly common alongside conventional mall security.

Mounted volunteers have a better view of huge parking lots, and they are easy to spot by shoppers who need help. They also quickly cover more ground than foot patrols and can maneuver between landscaping where cars can’t go.

Dunlop said statistics show that a mounted patrol unit lowers crime rates, and that’s really what it’s all about.

“We also serve as goodwill ambassadors for both for the Sheriff’s Department and the mall,” Dunlop said. “I think the unit just being here is a crime deterrent.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.